April 28, 2007
Passions Fans Get Their "World without End" After All: The Soap Opera Lives on with New Episodes on DirecTV

One of the biggest news items in terms of media distribution over the past week, especially as my thesis defense on soap operas in a convergence culture looms on the horizon, is that the NBC Daytime series Passions, the soap opera set to be cancelled in the fall, will not be disappearing after all but rather picked up by DirecTV as content exclusive to the satellite provider.

According to the press release from DirecTV and NBC Universal, "under the new agreement, NBC Universal Television Studio will produce brand-new episodes to air Monday-Thursday on DIRECTV's original programming channel, The 101."

DirecTV's EVP of Entertainment Eric Shanks said that "Passions fans no longer need to mourn the demise of their beloved program as it has found new life on DirecTV."

Josef Adalian with Variety calls this DirecTV's "largest original programming initiative ever." The budget will be lower, at $700,000 per week (1/3 lower than it is now), and there will only be four episodes a week instead of five, which will help producers deal with that lower budget.

Adalian writes, "Snagging Passions makes sense for DirecTV, which has found success offering subscribers programming they can't get elsewhere [ . . . ] Now, DirecTV has a product with strong female appeal, albeit to a relatively small audience base of about 2 million. However, if only 25% of the show's aud ends up subscribing to DirecTV, the deal could pay for itself."

NBC will be able to make money with Internet advertising and transmedia components of the show, as well as product placement deals.

However, the deal with DirecTV means, at least for now, complete exclusivity to the service provider, meaning that the show can no longer be available in multiple media forms, like iTunes.

Back in January, I wote about the cancellation of Passions and now television shows today are going to be "less hitty." I wrote, "Soap operas are supposed to be 'worlds without end,' but when the creative teams of the shows, the marketers behind the shows, the networks that airs the shows, and the fans that watch the shows have to constantly think about the fact that this soap might not be around in five years, how is anyone supposed to have the confidence in doing what soaps do best??"

A 26 January 2007 Bloomberg article from Michael Janofsky caught my attention, based on the cancellation of Passions, because it drew out so many people who started talking about soaps with the rhetoric of "a genre in decline," that made me afraid of a "self-fulfilling prophecy." I wrote:

Soap operas are all about the narratives of everyday life. The soaps industry seems to be crafting a "no" mea culpa approach to the soaps industry, a decline driven solely by external factors that no one in the industry could have stopped. Again, not everyone, but as an overall explanation of soaps' history since the 1980s, this has been the narrative the industry chooses to tell itself. And it is based on reality, but it's an oversimplification that also must face the fact that these narratives were not compelling enough to hold many viewers to them. Women in the workforce and increased competition is something the industry can't help. Doing everything possible to get behind these shows and improve them to retain the viewers that are left--that's what's missing from the rhetoric.

I'd like to see someone start telling an alternate story...before the industry writes itself into a corner.

Now that DirecTV is picking up Passions, it is great news not just for Passions and its fans but for soap operas in general. Perhaps this alternate form of distribution will provide an alternate type of discourse not about the inevitable cancellation of soaps but a continued Long Tail model of soaps that lives on, in traditional TV distribution, even if not on one of the main networks.

Of course, I have some problems with the exclusivity of the DirecTV deal, in which those fans who will not or cannot get DirecTV will not have access to Passions. I can see the value in creating a deal over time where the show will be released on DVD or through online digital initiatives, on a time delay, that will allow the product to disseminate further, and perhaps DirecTV and NBC Universal can come up with a deal long-term that will allow for those continued form of distribution after the initial DirecTV viewing.