Cable operators will have two 24-hour soap-opera channels
to choose from next January, following last week's news that Columbia TriStar
Television Group plans to launch SoapCity, which will compete against Disney/ABC Cable
Networks' all-soap service.
Columbia TriStar is looking to rerun some of the daytime
soaps it produces on SoapCity.
The company currently produces The Young and the
Restless and Days of Our Lives, and it partners with Procter & Gamble Co.
on the international distribution of P&G's Guiding Light, As the World
Turns and Another World.
SoapCity is slated to debut next January -- the same month
when Disney/ABC Cable is scheduled to launch its 24-hour soap channel.
Disney/ABC Cable will air time-shifted ABC soaps in
primetime, including General Hospital, All My Children, One Life to Live and
Columbia TriStar's announcement was met with
skepticism on two fronts.
Cable operators have questioned the need for even one
soap-opera channel, let alone two.
And Columbia TriStar's parent, Sony Pictures
Entertainment, has had spotty success growing its sole existing cable channel, Game Show
Network. Nielsen Media Research put GSN's distribution at 16.4 million households,
and it only got to that level by starting to pay cash upfront launch fees.
"It took them forever to get distribution for Game
Show Network, and it's all been bought," one cable-industry source said.
"So Sony isn't going to get any leverage from Game Show [for SoapCity]."
In contrast, Disney/ABC Cable can hold out retransmission
consent for ABC TV stations as an incentive for its soap-opera channel, or it can try to
package the network with Disney Channel, sources said.
Officials at Disney/ABC Cable declined to comment last
week, and Columbia TriStar couldn't be reached for comment.
Pam Burton, Prime Cable's director of marketing and
programming, said she would have to weigh the two soap-opera channels carefully.
"You have to look at their projected ratings and
factor in their license fees," she said.
On digital tiers, the all-soaps channels, with their
time-shifted shows, could help to reinforce the value of existing programming, Burton
Last year, DirecTV Inc. used one of its pay-per-view
channels to time-shift NBC's Days of Our Lives.
The cable-industry insider suggested that Columbia TriStar
may not seriously be looking to launch its own channel, and that it may be making that
threat in order to convince Disney/ABC Cable to do a deal for some of its soaps.
The source pointed out that Disney/ABC Cable needs more
soap-opera programming in order to fill its 24-hour schedule.
Columbia TriStar plans to integrate content from its
SoapCity Web site into the new channel's programming.