Were you shocked when you learned that 2008 would be the very last year for the ABC SOAPnet Super Soap Weekend at the Walt Disney World Resort?
Well, so were managers at Disney's Hollywood Studios. They had little or no warning that ABC Daytime was planning on pulling the plug on this annual event at their theme park. Indeed, given the large amount of money that the Mouse had just poured into DHS over the past year in order to make this theme park a far better venue for special events like Super Soap (EX: The $750,000 Disney just spent on enclosing the Backlot Theater) ... This news came as a real surprise to these folks.
But the way Brian Frons (i.e. president of the Daytime, Disney-ABC Television Group) saw it, he didn't really have a choice. Ratings for that network's soaps (indeed, for all soap operas everywhere) have been freefall for years now. Just in the past year alone, ABC's daytime line-up lost a million viewers.
And while a huge number of soap fans do journey down to Disney World every November in order to see their favorite ABC Daytime performers, Frons was reportedly worried that Super Soap Weekend wasn't actually adding to "All My Children," "One Life to Live" and "General Hospital" 's audience. If anything, this extremely-expensive-to-produce event was just playing to the fans that these shows already had.
Brian Frons, President of Daytime, Disney-ABC Television Group. Copyright ABC Daytime. All Rights Reserved
Which is why -- in an effort to recruit new viewers for "AMC,"OLTL" & "GH" -- ABC Daytime is looking to launch the Soap Nation Tour in 2009. Which will be this collection of coast-to-coast fan-based events that are deliberately being designed to raise the profiles of certain ABC soap stars.
"Our fans have told us that they want (their favorite performers from 'All My Children,' 'One Life to Live' and 'General Hospital') in their neighborhoods, so we are traveling our daytime talent to better serve them." Brian explained in a recent press release."The new year will bring new ways to involve our stars in more events, in more cities, more often."
Frons' hope is -- by making this promotional change (i.e. sending ABC soap stars out into the world, rather than having people fly all the way down to Orlando in order to get some face time with their favorite performers) -- he'll then be opening up "AMC," "OLTL" and "GH" to a whole new pool of potential viewers.
Mind you, what Brian hadn't counted on was the angry response from Super Soap fans. Who -- just as Adventurers Club fans did this past summer -- has launched Internet-based petition drives looking to save Super Soap Weekend and/or to get Brian Frons fired.
Copyright Disney. All Rights Reserved
Which is why ABC Daytime insiders have already begun getting out the word that next month's event may not actually be the very last Super Soap Weekend. That -- in the tradition of all those long-thought-to-be-dead characters who were then resurrected on your favorite daytime dramas -- this annual event could eventually return to a Disney theme park near you. Though the smart money right now is on Super Soap coming back to life on the Left Coast first, as part of the festivities involved with the relaunch of Disney's California Adventure in 2011 & 2012.
And then after that, sometime in 2013 or thereabouts, Super Soap Weekends would return to DHS. Where it's hoped -- after a five year-long hiatus -- that this event would cause a record number of ABC Daytime fans to come on down to Orlando.
But until that happens, soap fans will just have to make do with events like "Rock the Soap." Which will be this three-day-long cruise from Los Angeles to Mexico that will be held in March of 2009. Which will then give ABC viewers the chance to interact with fan favorites like Rebecca Budig, Thorsten Kaye and Kelly Monaco. There's also talk of the network making tickets available for that "Broadway Cares / Equity Fights AIDS" fund-raising concert that ABC Daytime performers take part in every February as well as next year's CMA Music Festival, which usually features performances from "AMC" 's Bobbie Eakes and "OLTL" 's Kassie DePaiva.
And speaking of making do ... Disney's Hollywood Studios officials are now on the prowl for some sort of event to help fill this empty slot in their theme park's schedule for November of 2009. Something like Star Wars Weekends, Night of Joy, ESPN the Weekend and the Tom Joyner Family Reunion. Which help bump up attendance levels during the slower times of year at that park.
And speaking of attendance levels at Disney's studio theme park ... Given what's going on with advance reservations (or should I say the lack thereof?) at the Walt Disney World Resort for the coming months, DHS officials know that they now can't count on out-of-towners and/or overseas tourists to come fill their park. Which means that they now have to do everything they can in order to make Disney's Hollywood Studios seem that much more appealing to locals.
That's why word has now gone out to get that theme park's "American Idol Experience" attraction open as soon as possible. Which is why the once-incredibly-elaborate rehab plan for the exterior of the old Superstar Television Theater has fallen by the wayside. Where once a huge Jumbotron was supposed to tower over that theme park's central plaza, that screen is now at ground level. Where once an elaborate new entrance was going to be constructed for this DHS theater, now the Guests will enter through a slightly reconfigured version of the old Superstar Television entryway.
And as for the show itself ... Those Adventurer Club vets who have since been hired on to play judges at the "American Idol Experience" are now being told that Disney may begin running test audiences through this theater as early as Thanksgiving. With the hope that -- should those initial shows go well -- that WDW would then be able to start promoting this new DHS attraction to Central Florida residents as early as late December.
Mind you, that significantly sped-up scenario only works if Disney doesn't hit any huge snags during the final phases of construction and/or if those early test shows of the "American Idol Experience" go extremely well. And from what I hear, the Mouse's marketing department plan would still like to tie the official grand opening of this new DHS attraction to "American Idol" 's season finale. Which isn't supposed to air on Fox 'til May of 2009.
Which -- I know -- isn't what I said last month. But given what's going on with the economy right now, Disney's had to make some huge adjustments to its initial plans for this new DHS attraction. So that elaborate & expensive lighting package that was originally supposed to give the "American Idol Experience" such a distinctive look? It's been significantly scaled back. Corners are being cut everywhere now so that "AEI" can then be opened as quickly as possible. With the hope that this new attraction will be enough to convince Central Florida residents that they should visit Disney's Hollywood Studios during January, February and March of 2009. Which are currently projected to be incredibly tough months, attendance-wise, for the Walt Disney World Resort.
So what do you folks think? Is it smart of Brian Frons to shut down "Super Soap Weekend," with the hope that a different sort of promotional event might then lure new viewers to ABC Daytime? Conversely, is it smart of Disney to fast-track construction of "American Idol Experience," with the hope that this theme park version of Fox's reality series will then compel Central Floridians to come visit DHS?
Cutting lots of corners just to shave a few months off of construction? That sounds really, really short-sighted. Sure, you'll get a few more people in the park in the slow season, but in the long-run, you're stuck with a watered down, cheapened attraction. Plus, they released all that art with the flashy entryway and all that, so I guess now that turns into false advertising. Stupid.
Hmmm.... I think Mr Frons is making a good call, by taking the Soaps on the road. However, I personally, don't see it helping any, but then I've never been a fan of daytime dramas. I may be wrong, but it would seem to me, the market for those shows is drying up. The new generation of TV viewers is different, and I'm not sure they're inclined to watch these types of shows anymore.
As for DHS and them rushing AIE, again, it sounds like a good call, but I'm not sure if it will be significant enough to help. WDW as a whole, might be faced with some real challenges for the next year, if the economy stays down like it seems to be going. The only new "attraction" they have in the works is AIE, while both of their Orlando area competitors, have some big new attractions set to launch, with Harry Potter and Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit at Universal, and Manta at SeaWorld, two of which are thrill rides which help to draw big crowds.
I'm actually looking forward to AIE, but I think it's a flash in the pan kind of attraction, much like Millionaire was. It just seems like the repeat factor on it is going to be low. Those who will choose to go see it once, probably won't go many more times after. Then, there are a lot of people (online anyway) who have stated they have no interest in it. And, especially once Universal and Seaworld opens their new attractions, Disney is likely to see a steep decline, at least from the locals.
I hate to sound like Jim, but I think WDW may be facing a real tough year unless the marketing geniuses can figure out some creative ways to draw more people to Orlando. I really think now is the time for them to seriously start looking at expansion and beefing up what they have. The economy isn't going to be down forever, these things come in cycles. Once it picks back up, they're going to need something to draw people back in.
Until I see a decline in attendance at the parks I have serious doubts that WDW will be in that much trouble. The past few weeks at Disney have been absolutely PACKED, and considering that a) it has been one of the worst months ever in American financial history and b) this is traditionally a slow time of year no matter what the economy looks like, I for one have been shocked. Much like Vegas, Disney has been going after the "whales" for quite a while. So Mr. and Mrs. Grand Floridian and their family probably aren't going to see too much of a hit in their pocket book for a while.
And on the note of rushing AIE to get the locals in...this is just an awful idea. I had no desire to see this attraction before, and I certainly don't now that some of the more intriguing aspects of it are going by the wayside. I am cursious to see what ADV Club alums make it into the show...if Hathaway Browne can make an appearance suddenly this attraction looks alright.
I'm indifferent to the Super Soaps weekend; I'd rather see something along the dorky veins like Star Wars Weekends. Of course, I'm <i>very</i> biased towards the latter.
As for American Idol Experience, I'm even more apathetic NOW tat I'm hearing the effects will be cheapened. I've never watched or cared about American Idol, and it's really not what I want to do on my Disney vacation. While I love the interactive aspect of the show, it's another large-scale, plan-your-day-around-it attraction like Lights! Motors! Action! and Fantasmic!. Hoenstly, I'd rather take my family to see Fantasmic - it's not something I can see once and call it a day; I'll see it every night I'm at the Studios. Also, I fear that guest reluctance or ignorance will lead to more cast members performing than actual park guests. In fact, a lot of people I've told about the upcoming attraction misunderstood that it would be actual <i>guests</i> performing, not cast members set up to seem like guests.
All in all, I agree with GreatAndoski. it may get people in a month earlier, but there will be YEARS of a cheapened attraction sitting on property - is that really the impression that Disney want to leave its guests with?
I'm not impressed with AIE plans. Give me another ride or interactive show that reminds me of "The Hollywood That Never Was That Always Will Be", rather than a pop culture clone. True, "Idol" shows may be the most popular reality TV shows worldwide, but I think they're dated. To be honest, I really miss Superstar television. The entire family could get up there and play a part, and they were all classics. I remember being 10 years old and called up to be a baseball player - it was the highlight of my vacation. AIE doesn't give ALL the guests a chance to participate, and I feel as though that automatically alienates the audience.
That's my 2 cents.
I kind of like putting the soap stars on the road. I'm not a soap fan, but I think it will be a lot of fun for all those soap fans out there. Regarding the American Idol Experience, I think that getting that started earlier may be a good thing. Especially because I don't think it will last very long. It's popular now, so do it before it stops. Yeah, that may be short sighted. Regarding "Nights of Joy", Maybe those will bring some more people into the parks. There is something however that I find kind of embarrasing about "Night's of Joy." Not especially about Night's of Joy in particular, but more about guests behavior. Jim wrote about this a few days ago. I also read something similar on the Focus on the Family web site. The writer was talking to a waitress about how she must get good tips from the Sunday chuch crowds. She replied that they are often pushy and rude. Thus I was saddened to read what Jim Hill wrote about similar things on Night's of Joy. My point is if you are a believer ad you do attend Night's of Joy, remember who it is that you represent. There are non christians who are watching.
They can tone down the AIE show all they want on my account. I give the show a one year run anyway. I would rather that they don't spend much money on a temporary show.
With the loss of a special event like the Super Soap Weekend maybe that will re-open the possibility of a special ticketed Halloween/Christmas event that Jim referred to about a year ago:
That would be a great bridge for the end of October through Thanksgiving time frame that the Soap Fest has occupied.
I don't think either of these ideas are good...