The soap industry is undergoing a transformation. Two new long-running dramas will be developed over the next three years, shocking many in the business.
In an effort to better reflect the UK’s population, the business has pledged to relocate important personnel, departments, and programs outside of London. The Beeb has revealed that one of the dramas would be set in the north of England. Other nations include Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. BBC bosses are taking a major risk by launching new soaps, which is clearly good news for aficionados of the genre. It’s a hazardous move.
With the old, making way for the new
Recently, the BBC has had to deal with budgetary issues. By the end of 2021, the company has indicated that it would have to make spending cutbacks of £408 million.
So, it’s hardly surprising that releasing two expensive new soaps has a cost. The BBC announced at the beginning of June that Holby City, a Tuesday night mainstay for 23 years, will be cancelled.
As a result of the new soaps, Holby has been cancelled. While the BBC hasn’t directly tied the cancellation to the new soaps, it has hinted at it. Since its inception, the number of viewers tuning in to Holby City has steadily dropped. But over two million people still tune in each week.
Because boosting the ratings of a current drama is simpler than launching a new one from scratch, it’s a risky decision to let Holby go without any promises that a new programme would be able to attract the same loyal fan base.
The race against the clock
Note that soap operas don’t have this London-centricity problem – a problem that the BBC as a whole seeks to address. South of England is only home to three soap operas: EastEnders, Casualty and Holby City. In addition, Casualty is shot in Cardiff, which generates work for the local production staff.
Coronation Street, Emmerdale, and Channel 4’s Hollyoaks are all popular soaps in the north. Over the years, we’ve also seen soap operas set in the north, like Waterloo Road and Ackley Bridge. According to the tabloid press, the BBC thinks that its new northern drama would be able to compete with Corrie and Emmerdale. With popular northern soaps already on the air and watched by millions of people each night, the BBC may struggle to establish its USP in a congested market where the competition is fierce.
Ratings on the decline
Many people believe that soap operas have been on the decrease for some time, despite their popularity. An Ofcom analysis published in 2018 indicated that series including Coronation Street, EastEnders, and Emmerdale were contributing to a drop in television’s mainstream viewership numbers.
Coronation Street, EastEnders, and Emmerdale experienced a total audience decline of 1.8 million viewers from 2007 to 2017; numbers have continued to decline in subsequent years. In this environment, releasing two new soap operas and trying to attract enough viewers to justify the expenditure is a risk. But we don’t want to downplay the importance of soap operas. Blockbuster series like Line of Duty and Bodyguard may attract large audiences, but they are expensive to create and only run for a limited time.
Corrie and Emmerdale, on the other hand, are consistently popular with audiences, dominating ITV’s top ten list of programming each week. Also, because they are filmed on purpose-built sets and on a restricted number of locations, they are cheaper to produce than many other shows.
With EastEnders going through tough times and losing viewers at a quicker pace than its rivals, the BBC may not have had as much luck as its rivals. After Corrie and Emmerdale, EastEnders has firmly established itself as the “third soap” on the Beeb’s schedule.
A history that has been marred by conflict
They’ve all been around for decades and have a solid following. Others have debuted much more recently, but they’ve all been a colossal failure. Doctors, which debuted on BBC One in 2000 and still dominates its daytime slot, was the last successful soap launch on a national scale.
It has happened before that new soap operas have caused networks to be embarrassed on a number of occasions. Crossroads was relaunched on ITV between 2001 and 2003, but only for two years.
A second ITV soap opera, Night and Day, ended in 2003 after a two-year run, due to low ratings. In 2008, after losing Neighbours to Channel 5, BBC One launched a new Australian serial called Out of the Blue. Low ratings led to the move to BBC Two after only one week.
On the Beeb in 2017, an EastEnders spinoff named Redwater starring Kat and Alfie Moon premiered to considerable fanfare. A disappointing cliffhanger terminated the show after just one season, even when the popular characters returned to the main show.
Among the soaps that have been cancelled are Family Affairs, Echo Beach, Headland, and Red Rock. One may also consider this soap’s history as an indication of the times. When a new program debuts, TV executives (and its advertisers) expect to see immediate results, and if they don’t, they’re likely to kill it.
Powers That Be gave shows like Corrie and EastEnders time and space to establish a fanbase. It may take a lot of patience for the Beeb to make its ambitious new series a success. Will it offer the new soap operas a fair shot at succeeding in the market?