If soaps are dead, why are they the highest rated scripted dramas on television?

Nielsen’s ratings for soaps and primetime tell a different story


This is going to be a short one!

While doing research, I looked at the primetime and daytime Nielsen ratings for October 26-November 1, 2020. Instead of looking at Women 18-49 or some other ad-centric metric, I looked at total viewers for scripted dramas during the period. To say I was surprised was an understatement, because I wasn’t surprised. Ratings for all of television – broadcast, cable, whatever – in all countries have been on a decline with the rise of more choice and time shifting options. That’s a fact.

However, it’s always espoused and pontificated that soaps are dead because their numbers during their daypart are “low” (which they are not when compared to all nationally broadcast and nationally syndicated programming). The total viewers in daytime are as low as in primetime, with primetime having many more low rated shows and more access to viewers who are home. For example, Days of our Lives had 1.67 million total viewers versus Pandora with 321,000 viewers! Pandora airs in primetime, which gives it access to more total viewers, but Days of our Lives pulls in 5.2 times as many total viewers despite airing at 12PM EST.


Top 10 Scripted Dramas on US Broadcast Television for Week of October 26-November 1, 2020 (Total Viewers)

  1. This is Us (7.30 million)
  2. Transplant (3.65 million)
  3. The Young and the Restless (3.16 million)
  4. The Bold and the Beautiful (2.72 million)
  5. LA’s Finest (2.27 million)
  6. General Hospital (2.06 million)
  7. Filthy Rich (1.98 million)
  8. Days of our Lives (1.69 million)
  9. Star Trek: Discovery (1.68 million)
  10. neXt (1.67 million)

Sources: https://tvseriesfinale.com/tv-show/2020-21-tv-show-season-ratings-week-six/ ; https://www.soapoperanetwork.com/2020/11/ratings-report-for-the-week-october-26-30-2020


Let’s turn our gaze to the United Kingdom. Their soaps air between 6PM-8PM up to six times per week, but their ratings are compared to the rest of all television programming. Here are the Top 5 Scripted Dramas on UK Broadcast Television for the week of October 26-November 1, 2020.

Due to some UK soaps airing two episodes per day and up to six episodes per week, I’ve used the average of their ratings to compile this list. Had we simply listed their highest rated episodes during this period,  only Coronation Street, The Sister, and Emmerdale would have made the Top 10.

Top 5 Scripted Dramas on UK Broadcast Television for Week of October 26-November 1, 2020 (Total Viewers)

  1. Coronation Street (6.64 million)
  2. Emmerdale (5.65 million)
  3. The Sister (4.91 million)
  4. EastEnders (4.85 million)
  5. Roadkill (4.16 million)

Source: https://www.thinkbox.tv/research/barb-data/top-programmes-report#.X6tDjKFruSQ


So, dear friends, the next time someone tells you soaps are dying because their ratings are so low, send them this post. This is Us is a blockbuster show. Transplant is doing quite well in its first season on NBC. The venerable The Young and the Restless was the third highest rated scripted drama on broadcast television after nearly fifty years on the air. ALL of the soaps made it into the Top 10 Scripted Dramas on US Broadcast Television for the week of October 26-November 1, 2020 and the UK ratings for the same period were dominated by Coronation Street and Emmerdale.

The soaps are dead; long live the soaps.


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