Another week, another new development to adapt to with the Prospect Park produced soaps All My Children and One Life to Live. Beginning July 1, The OnLine Network will release all new episodes of All My Children, One Life to Live and More AMC/OLTL on Mondays. It’s the same amount of weekly episodes, only in bulk. So is binge viewing a good thing or bad thing? TOLN’s messaging leaves a lot to be desired.
This feels like it’s become a regular occurrence since the April 29 launch; with production, content, and airing schedules consistently changing – it’s also not that unexpected. The studio backed online soaps concept is still in its infancy. There’s no rule book; no template established for what can and can’t be done. Prospect Park is making their own rules, and as the creative force behind The OnLine Network, they have the unprecedented ability to make changes at a moment’s notice with no one to answer to except the audience (at least the online audience anyway).
After being shelved for nearly a year, the TOLN project went from a plan to a fully-fledged operation in less than three months. That, in of itself, is a feat that should be commended. Lost in the accelerated lead-in to production was the ability to plan for what “could” be. Growing pains are necessary. When you have the ability to adapt and correct on the go, it should be taken advantage of at every occasion. But such ability comes with a downside – frustrated viewers and worst of all, apathy.
TVSource Magazine understands the rationale behind this newest scheduling change but that doesn’t mean we don’t have issues with the execution.
Binge viewing is a good thing. The internet is the place where viewers love to consume their favorite shows in bulk. It’s why services like Netflix, Amazon Prime and Hulu continue to thrive in a sea of competition. Catalog depth matters. The bigger one’s offering, the better one has a chance to appeal to the casual viewer, lapsed fan and the fan that came to through word of mouth.
One would think that the popularity of mass consumption of popular, one hour dramas like Mad Men, Scandal, Grey’s Anatomy and Revenge; and new original offerings like House of Cards and Hemlock Grove would also be something that Prospect Park would want to capitalize on for serial dramas as well. Unfortunately, the company’s messaging towards binge viewing has been inconsistent at best.
Prior to its launch, the concept of binge viewing was touted in interviews and social media. However, less than two weeks after debuting, Prospect Park announced they were reducing the weekly episodes from four a week to two. Citing viewership patterns, ultimately the decision was summed up in this statement: “Primarily, fans have been binge viewing or watching on demand, and as a result, we feel we have been expecting our audience to dedicate what has turned out to be an excessive amount of time to viewing these shows. (As an example, for the substantial audience only watching on the weekends, we are currently asking them to watch five hours of programming to keep pace with our release schedule).”
Continuing on: “The majority of our viewers are watching one show or the other, not both, and they aren’t viewing the shows when they did before. Part of the reason for choosing between the shows may be that the largest viewing takes place either between 12 PM and 1 PM (when people generally can only fit one episode during lunch time) or between 5 PM and 7 PM (when the vast majority of competing shows are a half hour long). We are finding that asking most people to regularly watch more than a half hour per day online seems to be too much.”
The statement implied that binge viewing – and expecting viewers to dedicate more than a half hour a day towards their shows – was expecting too much. However today, the company highlights binge viewing as a positive: “Now viewers will be able to choose to watch one episode each day or binge view some or all of that week’s shows at once starting each Monday.” Sounds like a contradiction of messaging, does it not?
It feels as if one minute viewers are told to watch whenever and however you want; then it’s you can’t keep up so we’re going to listen to you and reduce episodes so you can watch a little bit each day; to now a mantra of watch everything at once or whenever you feel like it. The constant changes are causing considerable harm, not only to the company’s image, but the shows themselves.
Soap fans, like all television viewers, are creatures of habit. The more schedules are altered and tweaked, the bigger the risk of turning the audience off. We’re sure diehard fans, especially those just happy to have AMC and OLTL back, will continue to watch no matter what. It’s the casual viewer, those whom Prospect Park needs to expand its viewership and its bottom line, which is the biggest variant. Casual viewers are the ones that are easily fed up with changes to scheduling; once those new eyes or recently returned eyes have kicked the soap habit, the challenge of recapturing their viewership grows exponentially.
We support the current move. This is the direction The OnLine Network should have gone in from the initial launch – release four episodes, approximately two hours of content, per show at the start of the week and let viewers watch however, and whenever they want. And while supportive, we also hope this is the last scheduling change TOLN plans to make for the foreseeable future. Once all of the kinks are worked out, and an “acceptable” viewing message is decided upon, maybe they can work on building a promotional campaign they can stick behind. Don’t tout the slogan of being an anytime soap when the consumption comes with a caveat.
What is your take on the latest development? Are you annoyed with the conflicting messages from Prospect Park? Are you happy to get to pick when and how you will consume the latest episodes of AMC & OLTL ? Sound off in the comments below.
Executive Editor Omar White-Nobles, Editorial Director Mandy Treccia and staff writer Johnathon K. contributed to this column. Follow TVSource Magazine on Twitter @TVSource