Soap Opera Ratings Special Report: GH, DAYS, B&B and Y&R First Week of Season Ratings from 2011 through 2021
Just two weeks ago, the 2021-22 season officially began. Here’s a look at the premiere week numbers for each of the four soap operas over the last 11 seasons.
Since the daytime dramas air year round, the official start of the season doesn’t exactly mean too much for viewers. The soap operas never set their storylines to begin or end during the first and final weeks of the season, because the storylines never really end- they kind of can’t. The show must go on- literally there are no breaks, so the season finale/season premiere aspect that primetime shows adhere to in story structure doesn’t apply.
But to the soap fans, and data nerds, the regular television season that runs from the week of September 25thish through the week of September 18thish is used for ratings purposes. Oddly enough, up until the 1995-1996 season, only ratings from September through Mid-April were counted for some bizarre and archaic reason- even though the soaps aired year round. That changed the following year and since then every week counts in the averages for all programming that runs year round including the four remaining soaps.
Since the week of September 20-24, 2021 was the official start to this season I figured why not look back at the past decade of premiere weeks for the four soaps.
Young and the Restless
Spoiler Alert: Young and the Restless was in first place. Get used to that because it doesn’t change- ever. At the start of the 2011-12 season, Y&R pulled in 4.264 million viewers, which would be its lowest premiere until 2018. Not a bad run above the 4 million viewer mark at all. The soap moved up 4% to 4.45 million in 2012. Then it dipped 4%, but still above the 2011 premiere with 4.278 million viewers. In fact, Y&R would not drop below 4.3 million viewers after this point until 2018 either.
Y&R jumped up 6% to 4.544 million viewers in 2014, dipped slightly to 4.399 million in 2015 and surged to 4.789 million in 2016. That huge 9% jump would bring Y&R its best premiere week numbers of the decade. Unfortunately, this was followed by a 10% drop the following year to 4.334 million- marking the final year it premiered over 4 million viewers. The following season saw Y&R drop to 3.961 million dropping 9% followed by a 5% decline in 2019 to 3.781 million. Between 2016 and 2019, Y&R lost over a million viewers.
Things got worse as the pandemic struck and production halted in 2020. All soaps declined this yea but none worse than Y&R which fell 22% to 2.947 million- its first premiere below the 3 million mark which came just 2 years after falling below 4 million for the first time. The good news is that Y&R saw this season’s premiere increase by 540,000 viewers- up 18%. Unfortunately the 3.487 million viewer premiere is down 1.302 million from the CBS soaps peak in 2016 and 777,000 viewers from the premiere 10 years earlier.
Bold and the Beautiful: Premiering Better Now Than 2011
B&B has the distinction of ranking number two the entire decade AND being the only soap opera who showed more increases compared to losses over the years. B&B premiere with 2.809 million viewers back in 2011- and this show was almost completely different at this point. The Steffy Forrester that viewers were used to seeing everyday was the elder Steffy and her son Ridge was played by Ron Moss. The two original cast members would depart the soap over the next two years. That type of change usually hurts a show, but the opposite happened.
The half hour soap opera saw three straight season premieres. that increased from the one before. B&B jumped 17% to 3.277 million viewers in 2012, another 9% to 3.565 in 2013 and hit 3.637 million viewers in 2014. That 829,000 viewer increase over the course of three seasons was unmatched by any soap during that decade. The soap dropped 5% to 3.452 million viewers in 2015, a season where all four soaps dropped from the prior year.
In 2016, B&B hit its peak of the decade alongside Y&R with 3.683 million viewers. The soap added 874,000 viewers over the course of five years, more than any soap that decade. In 2017 the soap dropped 5% to 3.487 million viewers and again the following season by 8% to 3.202 million viewers. In 2019, while Y&R dipped again, B&B actually added 16,000 viewers. The pandemic decline hit B&B hard, although its 17% drop was not as steep as its fellow CBS soap. Still, B&B fell to 2.655 million viewers.
This past premiere week, B&B pulled in 2.91 million viewers, up 10%from the decade low. B&B has the distinction for being the only soap opera to premiere with higher ratings in 2021 than it did in 2011.
General Hospital: Survived to See 50th Anniversary, Looked Shakier at 55, Looking Stable Approaching 60
General Hospital began the decade a precarious position. ABC had spent quite a bit of money securing the return of Vanessa Marcil for quite a bit of money. The last time she returned, the actress helped boost ratings by 30% in six months. Unfortunately, the storyline was a dud. Despite the fact that GH pulled in over 3 million viewers several days of the season, it also dropped to some of the lowest numbers on record as well. Marcil would exit the soap a month before she would have celebrated her first anniversary back on the soap. And this was the least of GH’s problems. In April of 2011, ABC decided to cancel not just one of its other soaps, but both of them. The fan outrage helped boost All My Children and One Life To Live and hurt GH… a lot.
In fact, OLTL would remain ahead of GH for the rest of the season and through its finale in 2012 and AMC would rank above GH quite often as well. So would NBC’s Days of our Lives. In 2011, GH premiered to 2.597 million viewers just barely ahead of last place DAYS’ 2.571 million. The following year was final was filled with negative press as rumors swirled that GH would not make it to its 50th anniversary. Without a soap opera lead in for the first time in its history, GH was shifted an hour earlier and things looked bleak.
The following year GH dropped 3% to 2.521 million viewers, surprisingly stable for a soap on death’s door. The positive momentum continued through the 50th anniversary celebration and by the 2013 premiere week, GH was in full recovery mode surging 11% to 2.802 million viewers. In 2014, GH hit the highest level for a premiere week that decade jumping another 5% to 2.938 million viewers. Unfortunately, the momentum would soon fade, as the soap dipped 12% to 2.593 million, erasing any gains made in the previous four years.
In 2016, the soap premiered to 2.711 million viewers, a reversal of 5% from the previous year and comfortably ahead of the beginning of the decade. That would be the last good news for the next few years. GH dropped 7% to 2.523 million viewers in 2017 for the lowest premiere of the decade. The soap would drop 12% to 2.211 million viewers in 2018, not just another low for a premiere but dangerously close to series lows. The trend continued once again with the soap dropping to 2.031 million viewers. In just four short years, GH had lost 937,000 viewers from its peak premiere week audience of the decade. The following year GH managed to increase slightly by 2% to 2.066 million viewers. Despite it not being a down year, by 2020 the ABC soap had lost 531,000 viewers from the start of the decade.
This past season GH reeled from the pandemic shutdown alongside its peers. While the soap managed to keep losses to a minimum for the season overall, GH was unable to break 2.28 million viewers for most of the year. That is until the final week of the 2020-21 season when GH surged to 2.389 million viewers. That good luck continued as GH hit 2.412 million viewers during the most recent premiere week, the second biggest year to year increase of any soap this year.
Days of our Lives: End of ‘DAYS’ Overblown, Many More to Come
The NBC soap opera has the unfortunate distinction of ranking last ever season premiere week of the last eleven years. DAYS was close to beating GH in 2011 with less than 30,000 viewers separating the two soaps. The following season DAYS dropped to 8% to 2.356 million viewers, widening the gap between the NBC and ABC soaps. The soap opera surged by 270,000 viewers to 2.626 million viewers in 2013 before dropping to 2.425 million viewers in 2014. DAYS fell only 15,000 viewers to 2.41 million viewers in 2015, in its final stable season.
The quiet whispers of the NBC soaps imminent demise began to grow as it dropped to 2.196 million viewers in 2016 and down to 2.1 million the next year. But, DAYS was not the only soap opera to struggle at this point in the decade. GH’s mid decade revival also came to an end. In 2018, DAYS added 92,000 viewers and came within 19,000 viewers of tying GH. The next year DAYS remained very close to its competitor with 2.012 million viewers to GH’s 2.031 million.
This came just months before NBC engaged in some of the most aggressive negotiation tactics in television history. The network took the entire cast off contract, with hopes of forcing them to take pay cuts or be blamed for the cancellation of the long running soap as well as losing their jobs in the process. In the end, the cast agreed and the soap was renewed. NBC also announced the launch of the streaming service Peacock and promoted DAYS as a major selling point of the offering.
When the pandemic shutdown occurred, things looked bleak for the soaps- except for DAYS. With its odd production schedule, the soap had already produced episodes 11 months in advance, effectively ensuring it would remain on the air when its competitors would not. The NBC soap opera was expected to perform better the following season since it would have been the only soap opera without any interruptions in the airing of new episodes.
This was not the case. DAYS dropped 14%, losing 289,000 viewers, to 1.723 million viewers. This past premiere, DAYS dropped once again to 1.697 million viewers, nearly a million less than its peak eight years earlier. Still, DAYS seems to have gotten the last laugh as it has been renewed through 2023 and was given a limited series spinoff earlier this year. While the soap remains in last place, DAYS has proven its value to NBC via its performance on the streaming service. With network television moving towards a streaming mentality with its programming and DAYS acting as one of the few bonuses the network can offer its many locally owned stations, DAYS seems to have plenty more sand left in its hourglass.
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Thank you for this article. I
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