A Richer Experience

Wednesday, November 10 2010
A Richer Experience

The soap bubble as a home entertainment genre has enjoyed something of a rocky history in recent years, moving from genuine phenomenon, to unpopular with public and press alike after one was aired despite being advertised as a video exclusive… But the genre has been almost singlehandedly saved by ITV over the past two seasons, through its efforts with Coronation Street.

And now Emmerdale, ITV’s other big soap franchise, is entering the fray alongside its sister soap, with its first offering for some years.

In keeping with ITV Studios Home Entertainment’s strategy for soap bubbles, the formula for the Emmerdale release, starring the Dingle family and titled For Richer For Poorer is simple, but effective.

“What we’re trying to do with the soap bubbles is appeal to as many of the fans as possible,” said ITV Studios Home Entertainment’s senior acquisitions manager, explaining the reasons for the Dingles storyline. “We pick the most popular characters, it’s not rocket science. We do the same with Coronation Street, Mary and Norris have been really popular this year.”

It’s a case of keeping an eye on the soap and how the public are responding to it that’s all important. Obviously their own production teams know what’s working and isn’t but ITV Studios follows its fortunes too.

“We do research of our own,” said Wright, “and we monitor the storylines and we look at the tabloids every day.”

But it’s not about foisting it on the soap’s producers, this new generation of bubbles are genuinely collaborative efforts. “There are teams that work on the soaps, there are writers already, and clearly they know what’s happening with the characters and how they behave,” said Wright. “It’s down to the writers and producers to say ‘this is the storyline and this is what we’d like to do’. We leave the creative part of it in their court.”

One of those people is Tony Hammond, who works on the show and produced the new soap bubble.

“There was an initial meeting with myself and the executive producers, we came up with the initial idea, and a workable storyline,” he explained, speaking at a press junket to launch the DVD. “We got people on board and the writer went through three drafts.”

Again, Hammond agreed, the Dingles were a relatively easy choice to get on board.

“The Dingles have done DVDs beforehand, they’ve got universal appeal.” He noted that the blend of comedy and tragedy the Dingles can provide is perfect to sustain the 90-minute format.

Obviously the storyline has to fit with the show, the characters. :You can’t do anything too crazy,” explained Hammond. “Everything is tied in to the main show.”

Once the script was nailed it was on to the problematic procedure that was filming. “We had to turn around the main show as well as the DVD,” said Hammond. “There were the schedules and the cast availability, it was a massive logistical nightmare.

“We had to make sure they filmed all their stories [for the ongoing soap] and some of them were quote big at the time.”

The end result? Well, both the show’s production team and ITV are pleased with the release, we’ve seen it and it’s enjoyable stuff.

The close working relationship between the two will help with the marketing too. “It launches on [November 15] and we’ll have a similar story strand in that episode,” said Hammond. “We’ll put an advert at the end and have references beyond that.”

“We try and get as much leverage for the DVD as we can,” added Dawn Wright. “Being part of the ITV network is a strength, we can get in mentions in the storyline.”

Those mentions lead to a spike in sales, recent Coronation Street releases show, which has all been part of ITV honing its strategy.

“We’re working closely with marketing, working with both teams in Leeds [for Emmerdale] and Manchester [for Coronation Street],” said Wright, which helps with planning, for example, PR and press junkets.

The close collaboration and playing to the ITV network’s strengths has definitely helped breathe new life into the genre. “We didn’t know we could revive it,” said Wright. But with Coronation Street bubble Out Of Africa in 2008, ITV did just that. “It’s been the same strategy [since]. We’ve refined it and got better and we’re now having a go with Emmerdale.”

But not only does it make sense commercially, it also works for the programme too. As Dawn Wright concluded: “It feels like part of the show, we’re trying to make the whole thing a richer experience [for viewers].”

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