A Cultural Shift Of Serious Proportions

September 17, 2010

Business Insider has the fascinating details about a major cultural shift in North America that is happening today: the demise of the soap opera in the face of competition from social networking and community gaming.

On October 5, 2009, CBS canceled “Guiding Light,” the longest running television drama in history, which began in 1952. This September, CBS will air the last episode of “As The World Turns,” the Proctor & Gamble production that has been running for more than 50 years. What’s more, ad dollars allocated to soaps fell nearly 30 percent from 2005 to 2009, and then fell another 20 percent in the first half of 2010.

So, why is all of this happening?

The television media has argued that the death of soap operas is the result of both women entering the workforce in increased numbers and the popularity of reality shows, the latter of which provides an alternate means to achieving the emotional gratification originally delivered by soap operas. I would, however, propose an alternate reading of events.

My belief is that viewers have abandoned daytime programming en masse because they’ve found more compelling content online, particularly social games of the Farmville, ZooWorld and Restaurant City variety. Furthermore, if things continue down the path they are on, social gaming will kill daytime television altogether.

I am not a devotee of soap operas.  Because my wife always watches “General Hospital” every day, I have vicariously (while doing something else) become an expert in the comings and goings in Port Charles.  I have also written in a previous post about soap operas how I came to admire their craft, at least.  But I don’t really known about the business.  It does seem reasonable — based on my own empirical sources of evidence — that the interwebs have stolen time from TV generally. And the advertising dollar collapse shows that this particular marketplace is in serious trouble.

Soap operas successfully fought off challenges from other levels of TV-watching (the introduction of cable, of Pay-TV, of video-on-demand, for example), and they flourished during the Bingo explosion of the 1980s and early 1990s.  But Farmville and Facebook and Twitter are proving to be a much harder set of competition.

I’m not one to stand in the way of “progress” solely for the sake of nostalgia. But I do have to wonder what the economy is going to do with the tens of thousands of actors, technicians and other creative personnel that will have to be absorbed if daytime TV disappears.