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A Kiss Away From the Magic 50M Mark

2/06/2005 7:00 PM Eastern

SoapNet, which just celebrated its fifth anniversary, has grown way past its “salad days” to become a “successful midsize network,” general manager Deborah Blackwell told TV critics last month. And the channel still has momentum.

In terms of distribution, SoapNet has been on a tear. The network now reaches 40.3 million subscribers, a gain of 13% over January last year. It added 4.6 million subscribers during the past year alone, according to Nielsen Media Research.

And the growth spurt is continuing. “We’re going to make a great leap forward this year,” Blackwell says. “Hitting our 40 million mark was a major milestone, but we are being melted by DirecTV [Inc.] into their Total Choice package in March. This is just a major, major strategic victory for us. We appreciate so much the vote of support that DirecTV is giving us by putting us on their most widely marketed tier.”

In part because of the boost from DirecTV, which has 12 million subscribers in its Total Choice tier, Blackwell expects SoapNet to hit the 50 million-subscriber mark this calendar year.

The channel had a lot going for it when it launched, advantages that are still stacked nicely in its favor. SoapNet has a powerful parent. The network, which offers same-day episodes of daytime sudsers like All My Children and Days of Our Lives, is owned by The Walt Disney Co.

Like most of the programming giants, the Mouse uses retransmission-consent to drive distribution for services such as SoapNet. That’s a sore point that continues to irk cable operators. Disney also has the ability to package SoapNet with its other cable networks.

Blackwell maintains that SoapNet has proved its innate worth.

“We believe that the audience support for the channel has earned us the right to be part of every operator’s offering,” she says. “In that sense, we feel confident that we’re really bringing value to them.”

Blackwell notes that SoapNet’s consistently been a Top 10 network in primetime for women in the 18-to-49 demo. The channel’s goal is to be fully distributed, and it is seeking analog berths.

“Even though we are a niche, we have broad appeal and strong ratings,” Blackwell says. “As everyone knows, it’s a built-in fan base. That’s why we’re getting put on the basic tiers.”

SoapNet continues to add original programming to its lineup. The network just ordered a second season of I Wanna Be a Soap Star, a reality series.

“You’ll see an increased focus on original programming moving forward,” Blackwell says.

Her long-term goal is to launch a second network. Right now, there are nine daytime soaps, and SoapNet is only airing half of that available programming. “We have to get this channel fully distributed before we start with SoapNet2,” Blackwell says.

September