DISNEY CREATING CABLE NETWORK TO AIR SOAP OPERAS IN PRIME TIME.
The Walt Disney Co. is launching a cable television network devoted to soap operas early next year that will air in prime time four ABC dramas that were broadcast on the network earlier in the day.
The soap opera channel will air 24 hours a day, but its focus will be the prime-time showings of ``General Hospital,'' ``All My Children,'' ``One Life to Live'' and ``Port Charles.''
``The soap opera channel can be to its fans what ESPN is to sports fans,'' said Anne Sweeney, president of Disney/ABC Cable Networks, on Thursday.
With the network television business hurting financially, this venture represents a way for Disney-owned ABC to wring more revenue from its programming. Some ABC affiliates have opposed the idea, however, fearing that a nighttime airing of soap operas would drive away some of their viewers.
Testing of the soap opera channel in Chicago and Houston revealed that it actually drove more viewers to the daytime airings because more people got into the habit of watching soaps, Sweeney said.
ABC said the new channel, which hasn't been named yet, is expected to feature movies and some original programming, although no specific plans were announced Thursday. One potentially fertile ground is rerunning classic shows; three of the current ABC dramas began in 1970 or before.
There's potentially a wide audience of current ``General Hospital'' fans who want to see the Luke and Laura episodes from the early 1980s, said Carolyn Hinsey, executive editor of Soap Opera Digest. The channel might also want to resurrect canceled ABC soaps like ``Ryan's Hope'' or ``Edge of Night,'' she said.
``Women aren't staying home as much as they used to,'' Hinsey said. ``They're not folding laundry and watching their grandmother's soap operas. If they're offered a chance to watch them at another part of the day, I think it can be successful.''
Disney-owned ABC had an advantage in launching a soap opera channel because it owns the dramas that it airs. Many soaps on other networks are made by independent production companies.
There's a possibility some of these companies would lease their programs to the new cable outlet, but they would risk offending the broadcast networks that carry the shows during the day.