Daytime soap operas are doing a slow fade to black on traditional TV, but they could find new life online, thanks to Net Soaps/Net Novelas.
The joint production and distribution venture was announced this week from Corday Productions, which is behind one of the few thriving network soaps — NBC’s 49-year-old Days of our Lives — and digital media company All Screens Media.
Others have failed trying to take soaps online. Notably, production company Prospect Park attempted digital-only revivals of the canceled ABC soaps All My Children and One Life to Live in 2013. But Net Soaps/Net Novelas founder Peter Heumiller insists this is a different beast. The shows will be built for digital, with interactive elements that involve viewers in everything from casting to set decoration.
“These are not your grandmother’s soap operas,” says Heumiller, a former VP of content acquisition for Comcast Cable. “It’s not taking linear content and trying to shoehorn it into a digital platform, which is what Prospect Park tried to do and failed.”
The best laid plans
In addition to Heumiller, other major players in Net Soaps/Net Novelas include Corday’s executive in charge of production Greg Meng and Crystal Chappell, a veteran network soap actress (Days of our Lives, The Guiding Light, All My Children) who has been producing and starring in the short-form online soap Venice, currently in its fourth season. She will develop, produce and direct shows for the company, as well as scout and mentor talent.
Heumiller says a typical Net Soaps show might have two or three 10- to 15-minute new episodes each week. He expects its first show to go online sometime in Q3 of 2014, but is uncertain what platform will carry it.
“We’re being approached now by some of the digital distributors that are looking for unique content that [they] may want to premiere and make some of our show properties exclusive on their media distribution sites,” Heumiller says. “So we may even start some of that ahead of what we’re doing on our own site. It’s about leveraging the eyeballs in this syndication business we’re in.”
Ad-supported, but subscription-curious
At the moment, Net Soaps/Net Novels is focused on partnering with brand sponsors for its shows, but Heumiller says he wouldn’t rule out trying a subscription model, pointing to the success Chappell has had with Venice and her new online sudser, Beacon Hill, both of which charge viewers $9.99 per season.
“Some of her fans are so loyal that they oversubscribe to support the show,” Heumiller says.
Net Soaps/Net Novelas also might take advantage of the hyperlocal brand integration that Chappell uses on Venice, which is shot on location in Venice, Ca., incorporating various restaurants and bars in the content.
“We’re looking at doing a show set in Las Vegas,” Heumiller says. “Obviously, Las Vegas is an international location everyone knows about, but if you’re filming in casino properties or day spas that are there, that’s hyperlocal to the business in that area.”
The bottom line with all of the brand integration is that it must look natural.
“You don’t want to have people walking in with the product so you can see the label facing out,” Heumiller says.
I say “tomato,” Tu dices “tomate”
Heumiller believes there are a lot of eyeballs hungry for content in Latin America and Brazil, which is why the company’s developing a separate set of Spanish and Portuguese-language shows under the Net Novelas banner. To that end, it’s brought on former Revlon/Latin America president Rose Ganguzza, who also previously worked for Brazil’s Globo TV network where one of her jobs was licensing Brazilian telenovelas internationally. The company will also be working with her sister, Patricia Ganguzza, VP of AIM Productions, a New York-based company specializing in corporate sponsorship and brand integration.
“They’re really two separate programming efforts under one venture roof,” Heumiller says.
Telenovelas are generally described as the Spanish-language soap operas, but they’re not exactly the same. They have much shorter story arcs than their U.S. counterparts, and they generally air in prime time.
“There are major cultural differences in the programming itself and the way people consume it and what they’re used to, so we’re certainly mindful of the cultural differences,” says Heumiller.
Fans tinker with props, not plot
Heumiller believes the biggest differentiator between Net Soaps and its traditional TV counterparts will be the interactive element. Although he says it’s unlikely fans will be voting characters off shows or otherwise having a significant say in their dramatic arcs (“The would cause problems with writers, timetables and storylines,” he points out), they will have a major role in casting.
Scripts will soon be posted on the NetSoapsTV site for actors to shoot, upload, and then share on social media so their friends, family and, hopefully, newfound fans can vote for them to be on the shows.
It’s similar to what Heumiller did at Comcast, when he had viewers across the country vote to choose fitness instructors for its Exercise TV channel.
“It gets very viral and it builds a lot of energy, insight and interest,” he says.
Fans might also help choose the couch a character sits on, or the car she drives, says Heumiller, again pointing out the potential for brand integration.