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Sony Aims to Rekindle Interest in Soaps

Waning interest in soap operas has got Sony Pictures Digital Entertainment placing heavy emphasis on SoapCity.com as a way to target younger fans.

An online news and content hub for 10 daytime television dramas, including two produced by Sony, SoapCity will hold a convention Feb. 2-3 in Pasadena, CA, to build more awareness.

Sony also is testing a demo that will allow SoapCity visitors to digitally download episodes of soap operas to their computers.

“That's basically where we're headed, a subscription-based business model,” said Mary Coller, vice president and general manager of SoapCity, Culver City, CA. “We'll be offering these shows online.”

The convention and the digital download target soap operas' traditional audience: women.

“From Sony's perspective, SoapCity is a way to ensure that this genre stays alive, but also to find other ways to distribute and enhance the shows,” she said.

SoapCity calls itself “The Soap Opera Capital of the World.” Though it has content on 10 shows, it officially hosts the sites of five, including “Days of Our Lives,” “The Young and the Restless” and “As the World Turns.”

The age of SoapCity's average visitor is 29, Coller said, compared with an average age of 45 for soap opera viewers. This younger audience is whom SoapCity wants to engage to revive interest in soaps.

Invented around nine decades ago on radio, soap operas came into vogue with Procter & Gamble Co.'s TV sponsorship of “Guiding Light.” The show is celebrating its 65th year on radio and 50 years on TV. In the early years, the show proved an effective marketing vehicle for P&G's packaged goods. Women at home in the afternoon, including homemakers, were the most ardent viewers.

“[But] since the majority of women went to work during the day, it lost a huge market, and over the years we've definitely seen that shrinking,” Coller said.

The Internet now is among the biggest distractions, which is why SoapCity is pivotal in drawing attention to soaps. But first, SoapCity must gauge the audience's mood.

“I really believe we need a convention to build back the audience, because this is a world that, on air, is a dying world,” Coller said.

Called SoapCity Live, the convention may become a recurring event nationwide. It will be supported by multi-tiered, cross-media corporate sponsorships and admission fees, which had yet to be determined at press time. SoapCity Live targets women, college students who follow soaps, retired men who watch television with their wives, teens and closet fans. Coller expects 6,000 to 10,000 to attend.

News of the convention has gone in e-mail newsletters to 250,000 names on the SoapCity database. SoapCity plugs also will appear on Yahoo and AOL sites. A site dedicated to the convention, Soapcitylive.com, is collecting e-mail addresses to keep fans in the loop. A TV, print and radio effort also will seek to drive foot traffic to the convention.

In addition, mention of the convention was made in SoapCity's 16-page catalog selling clothing, collectibles and show-branded jewelry. It dropped to 250,000 consumers on mailing lists rented from Primedia-owned Soap Opera Digest and other media titles.

The convention will be produced in conjunction with Creation Entertainment, a Glendale, CA, firm that has presented more than 1,000 fan gatherings in the United States and Canada. Conventions produced by Creation include “Star Trek,” “Xena: Warrior Princess,” “The X-Files” and MuppetFest.

On the convention agenda are a runway fashion show, autograph and photo opportunities, show outfit displays, video clips, beauty tips and makeovers from experts, and a Saturday night cabaret. Attendees can interact with soap actors and buy show-related merchandise. They can participate in a charity brunch with the actors and prize-based trivia competitions.

“But the idea is to make it more of an event of the overall soap genre, so we're going to have an exhibit about soap opera history – props, storylines as well as an exhibit of soap opera evening wear,” Coller said.

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