Thursday, May 27, 2010

SOAPnet to Go Dark in 2012

Is this the sign of the Apocolyse that the Mayans told us about? Or just the sign of the beginning of the end of daytime soap operas? We hope the answer to both is NO!

In a press release sent out last night, the Walt Disney Company announced it will close its SOAPnet cable channel and replace it with a service aimed at preschoolers:

In 2012, Disney Junior will take the place of SOAPnet, a 10-year-old channel devoted to soap opera reruns that is available in about 75 million homes, according to Anne Sweeney, co-chairwoman of Disney Media Networks. Disney’s current preschool operation — a block of programming on Disney Channel and about two dozen Playhouse Disney international channels — will be rebranded Disney Junior starting next year.

“This represents the next step in a global preschool strategy that started 10 years ago with the introduction of dedicated channels overseas,” Ms. Sweeney said. Disney Junior will not feature advertising. It will be geared to a slightly wider demographic, ages 2 to 7, than other preschool offerings like Sprout and “Sesame Street,” which typically are aimed at ages 2 to 5.

Programming on Disney Junior will include about 200 new episodes annually of current Disney Channel shows (“Handy Manny,” “Special Agent Oso” ) and new series like “Jake and the Never Land Pirates,” an animated series about children who pretend to be pirates and encounter Captain Hook. In the works are other shows that play off classic Disney characters (think princesses). Other offerings will include classic Disney movies like “101 Dalmatians,” “Aladdin” and “The Little Mermaid.”

Ms. Sweeney called the decision to unplug SOAPnet “a tough one,” but something that made sense from a business perspective because the original purpose of the channel — time shifting soap operas from day to night — has grown obsolete with the rise of digital video recorders.

Disney, currently selling up-front advertising for SOAPnet, emphasized that the channel will not go dark for another 18 months or so. Disney is still in the process of obtaining revamp approval from cable affiliates that carry it. Although ABC remains committed to its soaps (“General Hospital,” “All My Children”), other broadcasters have been moving away from the genre, limiting the amount of product available for SOAPnet.