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Sony’s Soap City, a popular website for fans of daytime dramas, will now offer a package of “the most scandalous, memorable and joyous episodes” from the archives of The Young and the Restless, Days of our Lives and As the World Turns as well as same-day reruns of those series for download. Consumers who want the vintage material will pay $6.99 for a package of four episodes or $1.99 per episode. People who want to watch more recent material can watch on a pay-per-episode basis for $1.99 each or buy a monthly subscription for $9.99 per series.

I have long believed that reruns on demand will be a killer app of broadband. Lots of folks talk about movies on demand, but the reality is that the studios are not going to offer us movies while they are still in the theaters and we get movies pretty quickly there after now, so the material available will not differ significantly from what we can already get through television pay-per-view services or order delivered into our homes via Netflix. On the other hand, if I find out about a hot new series a few weeks in, I may have difficulty catching up on previously aired episodes and in an era of heavily reliance on serialization and long term story arcs to try to insure committed viewers, this can be fatal to some of the more interesting programs. If I could go onto Broadband and pay a reasonable fee to watch this material per episode or per series, then I could catch up on what I missed.

Will people pay to watch what they can see for free? Well, the sales and rentals of recently aired episodes of television series like Buffy The Vampire Slayer, The Sopranos, Sex and the City, 24, and Alias on DVD suggests that they will. This is a well-established revenue stream in other parts of the world; America has been running behind in this area.

Will the production companies be willing to risk later revenues for syndication? The ongoing availability of shows like Bewitched or Gilligan’s Island for multiple decades has increased rather than diminished their economic and cultural value – though clearly this is an issue which will get decided on a series by series basis.

My key reservations about the Soap City model is I think the price point per episode is a bit steep (though they may know what the market bears better than I do) and they are not maintaining an archive of material in circulation – admittedly harder here given the sheer volume of soap content (5 hours per week) as compared to nighttime content (no more than 20 hours per year).

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