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Most Soap Opera Ratings on the Rise, Except for One

Soap operas, also called “soaps” for short, are a continuous work of television drama aired in a serial format. The name for these on-going series came from their early days being broadcast as a weekday radio show, which was sponsored by soap manufacturers such as Procter & Gamble, Colgate-Palmolive and Lever Brothers, and played during a time when most of the listeners would be housewives.

By 1976, daytime television became “TV’s richest market,” at least according to Time magazine, primarily due to the soap operas’ dedicated fan base and growth of several series into a full hour slot, instead of a half-hour. The increase in length of the show allowed producers to essentially double the amount of advertising space available for each episode.

However, since the early 1990s daytime soap operas have been on a steady decline. In the 1991-92 TV season, an average of 6.5 million viewers watched “soaps,” but in the 2009-10 TV season, the number dropped to 1.3 million viewers. No new daytime soap opera has been created since 1999, and many have been cancelled. And as 2010 draws to an end, there will only be six soap operas on three TV networks competing for viewers. In 1970, there were 19 different soap operas being aired.

Now that the annual November “sweeps” has ended (a time to measure audience viewership for a variety of different TV shows), an interesting trend among soap operas is starting to emerge. In general, most “soaps” are experiencing an increase in viewership, except one: All My Children, a “soap” that started in 1970. All My Children (AMC) achieved its lowest rating to date among women 18-49, while the other five soap operas saw an increase. In fact, AMC lost about 60,000 viewers since the previous 2010 “sweeps” in July.

Many believe that the general decline in soap opera viewership is attributed to audiences switching to more reality programming as their source of “melodrama.” With popular shows such as Big Brother and Survivor, it is much cheaper to produce a reality TV show than a fictional dramatic one since no full scripts or professional actors are needed for reality shows.

But for the recent rise in soap opera viewership, some believe that there are simply more people at home during daytime hours due to job loss or second or third-shift work schedules. Others say this could be a resurgence in the genre, which will once again bring increased advertising revenue and spawn new series. It will take more than one “sweeps” period to find out, but until then many will stay tuned to their favorite “soap” and their favorite good-looking character.

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