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As The World Turns To New Media

December 9th, 2009 · No Comments

By Garland Pollard

NEW YORK – With the announcement that CBS will cancel As The World Turns, we wonder why this television classic is not finding a new life in the new media with its producer, Publicis’ TeleNext? Perhaps it might, as officials are searching for new venues, and appear not to be giving up on this well-loved franchise.

“As The World Turns has been a cornerstone of our business and a tremendous asset to the company,” said Brian T. Cahill, Senior Vice President and Managing Director, TeleNext Media, Inc., in a press release. “We are proactively seeking a new outlet to carry the show, and are open to exploring innovative formats and relationships that will enable the future success of ATWT.”

The show was created by soap legend Irna Phillips and premiered April 2, 1956 as a 30-minute live television show. They now tape the show in Brooklyn, New York and it airs weekdays on CBS. While it started in the television era, many radio franchises made the transition from radio to television. And with other entertainment programming franchises, they move easily from movie to stage to book to television.

So why can’t ATWT find a new life, especially with low-overhead of new media? One answer is the disappeared media monopoly. When CBS moved from radio to TV, they only had a few competitors, and your audience wasn’t fragmenting. This is a completely new model, namely a mass audience that needs to learn how to play like a boutique player. That’s a sea change in thinking, and it requires hard choices and bold thinking.

A bit about the producer. TeleNext Media, Inc. is the producer of The People’s Choice Awards, and they brag on developing “new multi-platform content in a variety of genres” and strong industry partnerships, including the New York Television Festival. TeleNext is part of MediaVest and Starcom MediaVest Group, which is a subsidiary of the Paris-based agency Publicis Groupe.

Now, I don’t have the final answer for how you would continue the franchise. I just know that far less interesting entertainment franchises have survived.

Eight possibilities:

  1. Complete archives online. A daunting task, we admit, but it could easily find a new life online. There is precedent. YouTube viewers like Beautreal have posted many, though they are low quality. Thankfully, TeleNext has not asked YouTube to take the episodes down, as the fans love them. Some of the racier episode clips have over 2 million views. Most have thousands of views in less than a year. Each episode could be posted as a separate web page, and readers could comment. With new Google YouTube voice programs, the text could be extracted from each one. This is not something that will gain audience immediately, but the interesting fact is that when you put something on the Internet, it can live for years, and build. So your audience gradually evolves. And interestingly, the audience could build in a backward and forward fashion. A talent scout might want to look at an episode from 1997, and a fan might remember a favorite wedding or scene. They could then go back or forward from that time. Say, for instance, each episode got a few thousand views in a year. (Hint: if you posted them legally, you could stick some Dawn and Gillette ads in with the feed. That’s still selling soap. FOREVER and ever.)
  2. Written blog. Why not hire one or a few writers to turn it into a daily Dickens-like blog, and work in reader avatars, video clips, flashbacks and the like? The actors could do guest scenes. Then there would be a thread.
  3. Movies and television specials. If the story line keeps going, however slowly, CBS could have occasional specials for the fans. This would lower overhead, and allow occasional prime-time programming.
  4. Talent Scout: CBS ought to have a place where it holds talent before it goes to other shows. Soaps are perfect for this.
  5. Live shows: American Idol is a genius at turning TV into live theater. Even The Brady Bunch made it to the stage. How about turning soap opera into opera?
  6. Clips and rehash. Flashbacks galore! Who knows what internet users can do to re-mash episodes and such? And just remember. The great staple of the soap opera is the flashback. Ah, how it fills time!
  7. Fan events. Outsiders often capitalize on this, but with traditional revenue from network TV dying, CBS needs to figure out how to capture this, through whatever means. Fan events don’t have to be just cruises or autograph sessions; perhaps there are more elaborate things.
  8. The team lives on. Even a small team devoted to the scripts, archives, back episodes and social media would constitute keeping a franchise alive. Adding a few writers to the mix, who were licensed and authorized to write about the characters, would make it real without having to spend lots of overhead. This group would feed interest in fan events.

The good news? The “death” of ATWT is months away, leaving TeleNext and Proctor & Gamble with much time to figure out how to extract value out of this great old franchise.

And there’s one other bit of good news. On soaps, people die all the time and come back to life, no explanations. So ATWT might just keep turning after all.

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