Soaps Online: The Revolution That Wasn't?
by Aymar Jean Christian — Northwestern University
February 17, 2012 – 00:00
“This is the future,” Sheri Anderson-Thomas once said of “cybersoaps.”
Soap opera is arguably America’s most durable audiovisual genre, delivering consistent and engaged audiences for advertisers for decades. No wonder the earliest web programs were “cybersoaps,” expensively produced to replace television and institutionalize online entertainment. The Spot, a text-based show with photos and some video, set the standard in 1995, and many independent and corporate producers followed. Writers experimented with form – interactivity, multimedia presentation – seeing the web as a place of possibility away from daytime TV, which faced increased competition from cable and other entertainment mediums. “If the soaps are allegedly losing their luster on broadcast, they’re glowing – albeit erratically – on the Net,” wrote one journalist in the Orange County Register.
Not to be left out, broadcast and cable networks got in the game after The Spot and its high-profile network, American Cybercast, fell under and the first boom fizzled. Channels like Lifetime and NBC created online experiences, mostly supportive of on-air series. ABC, owner of All My Children and One Life to Life, planned to upgrade ABC.com by creating areas where fans could discuss the dramas and floated the idea of a cybersoap awards show, which have since materialized through the Daytime Emmys and small organizations.
From revolution to evolution and back again, soaps online have sparked renewed fervor. With broadband adoption up and video distribution easier, “indie soaps” have become the cybersoaps for the post-YouTube Internet. Next week We Love Soaps hosts its third annual “Indie Soap Awards,” honoring web series — like DeVanity, above — for niche audiences facing decreased daytime options. Fifteen years later, a diverse array of soaps are proliferating online, as independent creators and TV refugees search for new markets in the wake of the on-air cancellation spree.
Yet television remains television, as evidenced by Prospect Park’s inability to translate old media economics to the web with the deceased All My Children and One Life to Live. They aren’t the only ones having trouble. TV’s changing but relatively integrated revenue system makes fusing the web and TV difficult. And even if pure convergence happens, who will win? The soap will never die, but will it remake TV in the web’s scrappy image — if such a thing exists — or vice versa?