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Saturday, March 24, 2012

ABC: The New Coke of Daytime Television or Dissecting a Bad Decision

There are those who are trendsetters and then there are those who hopelessly try to follow.  Currently ABC Daytime is the later.  It has decided to jump on the education reality show bandwagon...about five years give or take a little after this became the trend of course.  Instead of looking to it’s audience to see what they wanted, it apparently decided to channel surf and see what other channel’s audiences were watching.  What was the result of this hack form of research?  The cancellation of soap operas for The Chew and The Revolution.

The most common reasons that viewers have been given for the replacement of soaps with these programs has been the idea that viewers want educational programs instead of entertainment programs and money.  I’ll argue that both of these statements are the results of bad marketing research on the part of ABC Daytime.

First let’s start with the idea that ABC Daytime viewers want educational programing instead of soap operas.  ABC Daytime viewers do not want this type of programming.  Viewers that want to watch cooking shows watch the Food Network and Cooking Channel.  Viewers who want to watch programs about make-overs watch What Not to Wear on TLC.  Viewers who want to watch programs about home design watch HGTV.  I could go on but I won’t.  My point is that ABC Daytime wasn’t looking at what THEIR viewers wanted.  Their viewers wanted soap operas which is something they can’t find on these other networks.

That ABC would think it was smart to mimic these channels in the first place is mind boggling.  Not because these channels don’t provide good programming but because the programming they provide is lower rated than the programming that ABC daytime was providing.  Cable networks don’t have to have as high of ratings because their audiences are already paying for their station.  They don’t have to rely only on advertising dollars.  Let’s compare the numbers.  In 2011, season 8 of What Not to Wear average 1.2 million viewers.  For the week of March 12, 2012, The Revolution averaged 1.33 million viewers.  In 2011, One Life to Live averaged about 2.4 million viewers.  Did ABC not only want to mimic TLC’s programming but its ratings as well?

To add insult to injury, not only is ABC Daytime trying to copy lower rated cable networks but it is providing a bad imitation of these programs.  The programs appear to have been designed with the goal of cheap production over quality.  They relied on the brand recognition of other channels by hiring hosts such as Tim Gunn from Lifetime’s Project Runway and Mario Batali from Food Network’s Iron Chief to bring in viewers instead of the actual content of the show.  They’re not even good knock offs.  It’s like a department store trying to sell a handbag with a “LX” design on it and telling customers it’s Louie Vuitton.   The customers are buying it.

So what about the cost of soap operas compared to reality shows?  It’s true soap operas are not cheap and because of this they need to bring in the viewers in order to drive up advertising prices.  I can see where the cost of producing a soap opera could make a network question keeping that program.  However, these shows were bringing in viewers even without any promotion from the network.  Why didn’t ABC just try to promote it’s own programming to gain viewership?  Why didn’t ABC do research on how to improve their soaps and hire good creative teams to boost their appeal?  It never did that.  I take care for the things I spend money on.

The end result of ABC’s carelessness has angered viewers and cost them ratings and reputation.  The Chew and The Revolution have been ridiculed by the press.  In a recent article on, columnists Roger Friedman even compared the new ABC Daytime line up to the New Coke and Tropicana container disasters.  This is a very good comparison.  These are both classic examples of companies Spending time in design houses instead of spending time with your customers."

In the cases of the New Coke and Tropicana disasters, both companies went back to their original products.  Hopefully, ABC can learn a thing or two from their own debacle and not cancel another soap opera.  I really hated New Coke.