Soap Operas Are Out, Telenovelas Are In

ABC network announced the cancellation of two long running Daytime soap operas – “All Of My Children” and “One Life To Live.” Actors and fans were saddened and shocked. (Read more: FOX NEWS: Soap Stars Shocked, Angered by Sudden Cancellation of Two Daytime Dramas)

While viewership for major network soap operas has gone down, the popularity of Spanish-language telenovelas has gone up. Telenovlas are similar to soap operas, but are limited-run television serial dramas, usually lasting a few months (120 or so episodes). The format is incredibly popular in Latin America and has caught on world-wide.

Spanish-language American networks, Univision and Telemundo, are both enjoying higher ratings, due largely to their telenovelas.

According to CNN (read more: CNN: The beginning of an era? Hispanic soaps gain popularity), Univision’s viewership increased by nearly 10 percent from September to April when compared to the same period last year to major English-speaking networks. According to Nielsen media ratings, during the same period NBC lost 16 percent of its viewers, CBS and ABC 9 percent and FOX 5 percent.

Univision garnered more viewers than NBC in the 18 to 49 demo on nearly 50% of nights during the first quarter of 2011.

Earlier this year, Telemundo’s primetime telenovela “La Reina Del Sur,” was the Number 1 in its time slot with the much sought after 18-49 and 18-34 demographics, according to Nielsen.  With 18-34 year olds, La Reina Del Sur topped CBS, ABC, NBC and Univision in the period.

According to the new Census numbers, Hispanics are now 16.3 percent of the country’s total population. Telenovelas continue to gain popularity largely due to the tides of new Latino immigrants watching television in their native Spanish tongue, and American born Hispanics, watching a familiar television format with (or without) their families. (Also, I bet it helps that many of the telenovelas are also seen in most Latin American countries, giving Hispanics another thing to bond over with their families back “home.”)

The business and political worlds have taken notice and see the telenovela format as a way to connect with Hispanics. The New York Times write, “A Growing Population, and Target, for Marketers.” In 2008, campaigns and political organizations produced their own televnolvas to get out their message. Voto Latino used famous Latino actors, while the Barack Obama campaign used volunteers- read more: Telenovelas: Techonology and Politics Meets Hot Latinas.

An interesting question to ponder, Should major American networks incorporate the limited run format into their traditional soap opera format to try to re-vive/ safe daytime soaps?

While the most successful Spanish telenovelas are in primetime, it would be an interesting experiment for the networks to try the limited run format during the daytime soap time slot. Goodness knows the big networks will likely fill the time slots with new talk shows, games shows and possibly bad reality TV.

The short run telenovela format might become an attractive option for modern audiences, who now have short attention spans and are always looking the next “new thing” … Who knows, like usual, literal translations from Spanish to English, and vice versa, never work. It will have to take some talented writers and creativity to merge the two formats, but still an interesting concept and worth a try…

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