Why soaps shouldn't adopt an online boxset system long term

The  future of television is constantly changing but one thing that always has been a constant in our lives has been sitting down with a cuppa for the latest episode of Emmerdale, Coronation Street and EastEnders.

A simple and traditional pleasure, something to chat about at work, tweet about, discuss on forums and help us tell what day it is.

But every channel has to adapt – with viewers having so many options and streaming services at their fingers, there is so much content. Myself, I have about 20 shows on my Watch Later list and it’s going to be MUCH later.

But I always watch my soaps. However, as the target audience changes with age, we’re in a world where entire series are available to binge watch or watch on a week by week basis.

The soaps are following suit and it has been assured that this is solely because the schedules are all over the place thanks to the (bloody) football.

Makes sense – no need to obsessively check the TV guide to see that Corrie has been moved to Tuesday at 10 or Emmerdale comes on right after The Chase.

I have the freedom to binge them all at once. A catchy quote. But I have always had the opportunity to do this – if I so wanted I could save my binge until the end of the week and just avoid spoilers as best I can.

That would be my choice and it’s one many take – with live TV viewership generally dwindling (although Line Of Duty, Bodyguard and I’m A Celebrity kind of show that it’s still possible to get the viewers in their seats and turn off their phones), soaps want a piece of the online pie.

Overnight ratings are now less of a measure and shows are equally judged on their success online and on social media. That’s why social media is more active with trailers and exclusive clips, that’s why the soaps release about 20 videos a week on YouTube and that’s why they look closely at the stats on iPlayer and ITV Hub.

So could this be an experiment for what the future could be for soaps? I have been assured by people in certain places (I never give my sources) that this is in no way the plan and that there is absolutely no intention of taking the shows off of regular channels.

I don’t doubt that the programmes will remain on screen – despite figures being lower than previous years, they provide consistent and guaranteed numbers where experimenting with other formats is a gamble in those slots.

For ITV it’s even more prominent – the ad revenue for slots around the soaps is a big contributor to the channel’s budget. Corrie doesn’t drop trams on the set for free, you know.

But – what IS possible is that they could go both online and remain on TV. It would make sense from a boss’ point of view – but what about the viewers?

If you want to watch regularly, spoilers will be everywhere by 8am on Monday from fans and from press. That means having to basically stay off social media until you have caught up. Many people don’t have time (or the desire) to get up at 6am and watch six episodes of Coronation Street.

For the older people, people with bad internet connections or people who aren’t familiar with the online platforms won’t even have the choice to access them.

It takes away the ability to all have conversations at the same pace about how good/awful last night’s episode.

We’ll all be in that Game Of Thrones frame of mind of checking with a person that they are up to date before talking about a massive.

Nobody wants to hear that Phil has bought the launderette until they have had the joy of seeing it on screen first. And nobody wants to silence themselves on Twitter or put spoiler warning above everything they right.

Commercially, it is understandable for channels to have a presence online.

However, with EastEnders having had 196 million streams on iPlayer since September, it is clear they are already having that success – it makes it consistently one of the top shows online.

They also can add consolidated TV figures and collectively ratings will merge and for the viewer, it’s a much better option.

I’d rather it be my fault I got spoiled because I choose to watch later, than it being taken out of my hands because someone has binged it on Monday before they’ve even had their porridge.

I am glad of the reassurance that this is only for the football – and I get it from a commercial and viewer point of view. With schedule changes, many will miss episodes and ratings are of course going to drop with the football and the hot weather taken into account.

Beyond three weeks, I am hopeful that the assurances from the soaps that there is no plan to adopt this permanently is a solid one. By and large, many fans support the idea of three weeks but I have seen mostly negative worries that it is an experiment for longer term.

It would hack away at viewer experience and may also be to the detriment of soaps who still consistently pull in ratings both on TV and online, making a system unbroken and unneeded of a change.

In fact the biggest thing – as ever – to get both figures to go up is to create much watch drama, ensure the soap is as best as can be and ensuring fans do not want to miss out whether live or a little later on catch up. The best way to run a soap is to focus on how to make it enjoyable, not where to put it.

Soaps are a traditional, never ending serial. Leave the ten episode dramas for bingeing online; there are already more than plenty – a soap can’t compete with that and shouldn’t feel like they have to.

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