Moving soaps from TV to Web: Easier said than done
On the surface, the news that soap operas "All My Children" and "One Life to Live" may find new life on the Web after ABC pulls the plug on them sounds like great news to fans of the genre.
But the economics of such a move wouldn't be easy. Soap operas have large casts, writing staffs, producers and lots of sets. In other words, they're not cheap. A soap can cost as much as $50 million a year to produce.
The announcement from Prospect Park -- an entertainment company whose partners include former Disney executive Rich Frank that has aspirations of creating a Web entertainment giant -- was very sparse on the details of how it would pull off moving the two soaps from broadcast television to the Internet.
It is also unclear who from the two soap operas is actually on board with the plan. ABC is licensing its soaps to Prospect Park, but that doesn't necessarily mean the entire cast and crew are involved. Neither ABC or Prospect Park are commenting beyond their news release. Prospect Park will have to cut deals with the talent of the two soaps, who would probably have to take pay cuts if they want to be involved in the new versions of the shows.
Both soaps average about 2.5 million viewers, a number that may be hard to reach online. Also advertising online is not as expensive as advertising on television.
The executives behind Prospect Park are not novices to the business. Frank is a former top executive at Disney and served as president of the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. Jeff Kwatinetz used to head the talent management company the Firm. Frank is also an executive producer of the USA show "Royal Pains" and the new FX comedy "Wilfred."
Eventually, the Internet probably will become the platform on which content is delivered, and there are some names that are probably big enough now to pull a move to broadband off. If Comedy Central's Jon Stewart decided to leave cable and take his show exclusively to the Web, he probably would get a decent following and perhaps even be able to generate subscription revenue, much the way Howard Stern did.
But both Stern and Stewart are talk show hosts whose programs have relatively low production costs and can be sustained on mediums with a smaller reach. Until the Internet as a distribution system and -- more important -- advertising on the Internet reach parity with television, the idea of network-like programming on the Web may be a plot better left to soap operas.
-- Joe Flint
Photo: Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa films a scene with Susan Lucci on "All My Children" last year. Credit: Stefano Paltera / Los Angeles Times