Three weeks into the re-launch of soaps All My Children and One Life To Live online, I’ve learned that producer Prospect Park is adjusting their release schedule to two new original episodes each week instead of four as it is now. Starting next Monday, fresh episodes of All My Children will be uploaded on Monday and Wednesday, and new episodes of One Life To Live on Tuesday and Thursday. (Friday will continue to be day for recaps, which will now run as a single show). I hear Prospect Park has started to notify producers and have obtained a letter by the company’s principals Rich Frank and Jeff Kwatinetz to fans about the change (read it below).
I hear the decision to reduce the number of new episodes a week was made after Prospect Park studied the data for the first 2.5 weeks of viewing. On traditional TV, soap fans come in and out of their favorite shows, usually watching 2-3 shows a week. But because all aired episodes of AMC and OLTL are available online, viewers don’t rush to watch them right away and then try to see what they missed at once, leading to binge viewing. While that is not a problem for shows like Breaking Bad, Homeland and House Of Cards, which offer 13-episode seasons, catching up on four new episodes of both soaps proved difficult for online viewers, many of whom have already fallen behind. To accommodate them, Prospect Park will keep all aired episodes of AMC and OLTL on the free Hulu platform for now, instead of migrating the older ones to Hulu Plus with only the 10 most recent segments available for free. The decision was made to make the viewing load more manageable before fans start giving up.
With the new schedule, OLTL and AMC will produce about 110 episodes this year instead of the planned 168, which is expected to give writers more time to catch up on scripts and provide more time for editing and postproduction. AMC is finishing a five-week shooting cycle today. It will be followed by a four-week pod for OLTL, after which the two shows will go on an 8-week break and resume production in August. Here is the letter:
For close to two years we have been working passionately to bring first run premium content to an online platform with the creation of brand-new versions of the two iconic series, All My Children and One Life To Live. There was no precedent for this effort- we had no history-no barometer for how our fans would respond. We always knew there would quickly be new insights into how audiences would respond to our shows and this new platform, and that our ability to adapt quickly to audience needs would ultimately determine the long-term success of the shows and our mission. This is a new medium, a new time and we have always planned to make changes quickly by listening to you, our fans and customers.
Today it is clear these shows have resonated, as many millions of views have been logged since our April 29th debut, a mere two and a half weeks ago. We’ve consistently been in the top ten shows viewed on Hulu and viewers and critics alike have told us how impressed they are with the quality of both programs. The past two weeks have been invaluable in terms of learning about how you watch and when you watch our shows on this new platform. We have gained enormous insight through our actual viewing data and our research. And our research has revealed the following:
- In the past these shows had their vast majority of views within the first 24 hours. Instead, our shows are primarily consumed on different days then when they originally air. Primarily, fans have been binge viewing or watching on demand, and as a result, we feel we have been expecting our audience to dedicate what has turned out to be an excessive amount of time to viewing these shows. (As an example, for the substantial audience only watching on the weekends, we are currently asking them to watch five hours of programming to keep pace with our release schedule).
- On ABC the shows shared a large percentage of their viewers with each other. Yet, the majority of our viewers are watching one show or the other, not both, and they aren’t viewing the shows when they did before. Part of the reason for choosing between the shows may be that the largest viewing takes place either between 12PM and 1PM (when people generally can only fit one episode during lunch time) or between 5PM and 7PM (when the vast majority of competing shows are a half hour long). We are finding that asking most people to regularly watch more than a half hour per day online seems to be too much.
- During their ABC runs, viewers watched only 2-3 episodes on average a week and picked up with whichever day’s episode it was. Our viewers seem to primarily start with the first episode and then continue forward episode by episode. Like with primetime serialized dramas as opposed to the traditional slower pacing of daytime, people feel lost if they miss an episode. People are starting from the beginning; the shows are designed for complete viewing from episode one. Yet starting from the beginning with the amount of episodes we are releasing is asking too much for viewers who need to catch up.
The clear conclusion is that while somewhat mixed, these viewing patterns resemble more closely the typical patterns of online viewing rather than how one would watch traditional television. This leads us to believe we are posting too many episodes and making it far too challenging for viewers to keep up. When it comes to online viewing, most of us are just trying
to find time to watch series comprised of 13 to 22 episodes a season-so asking viewers to assign time for over 100 episodes per show is a daunting task.
Therefore, we have chosen to revise our scheduling model beginning this Monday, May 20th by introducing two new episodes from OLTL and AMC each week- new episodes of AMC will now run on Mondays and Wednesdays, and fresh episodes of OLTL will post Tuesdays and Thursdays. MORE, our behind the scenes series, will run as a single show on Fridays. This allows us to introduce a new episode of quality television every Monday through Friday and gives the audience a chance to catch up as we continue to build awareness and excitement around these new shows. Because Hulu agrees with our findings, for the meantime they will keep all of our episodes on Hulu.com for free to give viewers the opportunity to find us and catch up.
We know our most dedicated viewers will be upset as they would probably prefer more shows to less (we personally wish there were more episodes of our favorite shows; we would love 50 episodes a year of Homeland, Mad Men or The Simpsons). We apologize to these viewers and ask them to please understand we are trying to ensure our shows succeed and not meet the fate they experienced previously. We need to devise a model that works for all viewers and follows how they want, and are actually watching, online. When it comes to online, as with all new technology, it’s adapt or fail. We feel fortunate to be an online company and to have such an opportunity to adapt. Of course, we will continue to evaluate all the data that comes in and will be vigilant about revising our strategy as needed.
We want to be clear that this will in no way impact our feverish pace of production – we will be filming new episodes through mid-June, continue editing throughout July and until we go back into production in August. It’s a frenetic schedule but all of us are up for the challenge and excited to continue to deliver great shows.
As a new venture we felt obligated to address the needs of our viewers head on and to make adjustments that we think will work for our viewers. And as always, we thank you for your continued support and encouragement.
Rich Frank and Jeff Kwatinetz