While canceled on broadcast TV, daytime soap operas All My Children and One Life to Live will continue to live on online. Two-year old production company Prospect Park has struck a deal with ABC to license the shows and make them available for streaming on the web and on devices like connected TVs. But will TV audiences follow the soaps online?
The continued production of All My Children and One Life to Live will surely please audiences that tune into those shows daily. Both average about 2.5 million viewers, according to the Los Angeles Times, which is difficult to support on broadcast TV, but a huge audience compared to most web original series. But there’s still a question of whether or not the economics of online distribution might work for shows that migrate online.
For one thing, much of its audience will begin watching shows once they’re no longer available on TV? There’s also the question of budget — the LA Times notes that soap operas can cost up to $50 million a year to produce, which is a pretty large sum for a web-only property.
It’s also not clear what strategy the shows will take for distribution: whether they’ll be made available direct to consumers on their own web properties, or — more likely — if they’ll be sold or licensed to distributors like Netflix to reach viewers on its website and connected devices. If so, All My Children and One Life to Live could be the first cancelled series to be “saved” by distribution on Netflix.
Going web-first or web-only is also a strategy that’s been taken up by a few high-profile projects in recent months. Netflix is licensing the new David Fincher-Kevin Spacey series House of Cards, for instance, beating major cable networks like HBO and Showtime to the punch. And Kiefer Sutherland’s web series The Confession, which premiered on Hulu, is already profitable, with plans for international distribution and DVD sales upcoming. So there’s hope that niche programs like daytime soaps can support themselves with online audiences.
Indeed, online distribution is increasingly becoming a way for networks, shows and even TV stars to reach viewers even if broadcast audiences aren’t large enough to support them. Here are some other examples of this happening over the past year or so:
- Al-Jazeera English has had a difficult time getting distribution on U.S. cable and satellite providers, but its live streams became indispensable for coverage of Middle Eastern uprisings earlier this year. Its streams are now available on a wide range of platforms, including Roku, Boxee, Google TV, PlayStation 3 and iPhone and Android mobile devices.
- Cable network WealthTV also struggled to find distribution, so it took its programming direct to consumers with a subscription-based Roku app, and it’s looking to launch on other platforms as well.
- When Glenn Beck’s contract ended with Fox News, he launched his own online-only subscription video network called GBTV.
Much of the discussion around soap operas going online has been about whether or not online audiences are large enough to attract the kind of revenue to keep the shows afloat, but wide distribution through multiple platforms — like Netflix, Hulu and even YouTube — might turn out to be the best way to ensure the shows are seen by as many viewers as possible.