Media Lifeline: Online soap operas

From a series about a girl named Bree to EastEnders spin-offs, the online soap is evolving fast.

September 2006: Lonelygirl15 - supposedly a real video blog on YouTube featuring the trials of a girl named Bree - had been attracting increasing attention since its inception in June 2006. But, in September, The New York Times reveals its true status as a soap opera written and produced by a bunch of former lawyers and medics. As it raises its game, producing four or five shows a week, lonelygirl15 builds a worldwide audience of more than 100 million.

April 2007: The production company, EQAL, launches a UK-based sister series, KateModern, on Bebo. It relies on product placement as a revenue stream. Its first series draws 1.5 million viewers a week and series two, according to producers, doubles that audience.

April 2008: But that's nothing compared to the success of Sofia's Diary, an interactive online soap opera, also on Bebo, which is an instant hit, attracting a claimed daily audience of more than five million. Starring Rachel Hyde-Harvey, Sofia's Diary is an everyday story of a girl adjusting to life with her dad, step-mum and baby stepbrother after being sent to London by her mum because she accidentally blew up the school chemistry lab.

July 2009: Government agencies begin to see the social engineering potential of the online soap. As is evidenced by the launch of Out Of The Gate, an online audio soap, funded by the British Council, featuring plotlines about knife crime and gang culture.

October 2009: So it's a surprise that established broadcasters take so long to get in on the act. ITV flirts with the idea, but it's the BBC that gets there first with an EastEnders online spin-off soap that will begin netcasting in January. Episodes, lasting between six and 12 minutes, will be posted on the EastEnders website after each episode of the TV show - they will feature existing stars plus characters not included in the TV version.

Fast forward ...

May 2010: And now the logic is taken to its ultimate conclusion as Hollyoaks decides to relaunch as an online-only property. It's hardly a great leap in the dark, as a huge chunk of viewing was already taking place via internet-delivered digital channels, with growth in mobile being particularly pronounced. But the move online allows for the development of a new revenue stream - outrageously unsubtle product placement.


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