Emmerdale cooler than Brookside

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Brookside, the television serial that could once claim the younger "soap" audience as its own, with storylines about drug addiction, incest, religious cultism, a body beneath the patio, and, of course, Beth's lesbian kiss scene, is losing its youth audience to an unlikely rival: the rural drama Emmerdale.

Industry figures show a growth of 37 per cent for Emmerdale's audience over the past two years in the advertisers' key 16-34 target market, and a decline of 25 per cent for Brookside over the same period.

The shifting allegiances of viewers have economic consequences. This year Brookside generated an average of pounds 135,306 in advertising per transmission, while in June 1996 the amount stood at pounds 198,642, a fall of almost 32 per cent year on year.

Jeff Hill, head of research for the UK's largest media buying company, Zenith Media, commented: "It does raise the question of how long Channel 4 will be prepared to continue commissioning a tired series in long-term decline."

For years, Emmerdale Farm, set in West Yorkshire, was the sleepiest of the soaps, with a low audience rating and a low profile. Then in 1989 its makers, Yorkshire TV, shortened its name to Emmerdale, brought in Brookside's own producer, Phil Redmond, to improve it, and killed off some characters through a plane crash on the village.

Redmond's advice to pep up the storylines has turned the show into a serious rival to Brookside. Emmerdale now has its own lesbian relationship, as well as a baby recently abandoned by its 13-year-old mother.

Mervyn Watson, producer of Emmerdale, and one of Coronation Street's most celebrated former producers, said: "We certainly very consciously try to include the younger members of our cast and bring them on and give them proper stories in their own right. I think that in itself attracts a peer- group audience."