Erica Kane survived a dozen marriages across 40 seasons, along with car accidents, parental abandonment, and even toxemia. But was she done in by FarmVille.
Kane, the iconic All My Children character played by Susan Lucci since 1970, will cease to be this September when ABC plans to cancel both that show and One Life to Live, leaving just four soap operas on the air.
While the soap audience has been shrinking for decades, driven by more women in the workplace and a 200-channel universe, the genre's decline appears to have accelerated over the past few years with the meteoric rise of social gaming. When Zynga–publisher of massively popular Facebook games such as FarmVille and CityVille–arrived on the scene in 2007, both All My Children and One Life to Live were averaging a 1.9 rating among women 25-54. By 2011 the two shows were averaging 1.3 and 1.4 ratings respectively in that key viewer group. The drop is even steeper for other demographics. Meanwhile, by April 2009, Zynga was reaching 40 million monthly active players on Facebook, according to comScore. These days, the game has over 47 million players each month while the more recent hit, CityVille, attracts a staggering 88 million active participants.
Experts believe that soap viewers, particularly stay-at-home moms, are increasingly finding the connection inherent to social games far more compelling than the goings on in Pine Valley.
"Women at home used to have these virtual friends, these soap stars," says Maria Bailey author of Mom 3.0. "Now their virtual friends have come alive, and they don't need one-way conversations. I grew up on Susan Lucci, but Susan Lucci doesn't talk back to me."
This shift to social is rapidly changing how marketers go after the mom demo. "It's a more active, engaged medium," says Mitchell Reichgut, CEO of Jun Group, which specializes in social video campaigns. "We see a good portion of our business coming from packaged goods, and the biggest segment of that business is aimed at working moms. These brands are actively looking to be in social games."