The World's longest running soap opera is The Archers, broadcast on BBC Radio 4. According to Wikipedia this was originally produced in 1950 in collaboration with the Ministry of Agriculture. "The Archers was conceived as a means of disseminating information to farmers and smallholders to help increase productivity in the post-World War II years of rationing and food shortages," Wikipedia adds.
The British pioneered the use of soap as a tool of social policy but this practice is now more or less global. In countries that lack almost any other way to combat the Aids epidemic people have turned to soaps to drive home the message that safe sexual practices save lives, for example.
In South Africa in 2006 script writers announced that one of the lead characters in the country's most watched tv soap Isidingo, was going to struck down by Aids.
The soap, shown by public broadcaster SABC, had an audience of a million. The storyline was designed to strike a chord in a country where something like 16% of adults have HIV or Aids.
Population Media Center (PMC), an American not for profit organisation based in Vermont, has been responsible for radio soaps in America, Africa, Oceania and Asia.
The soaps contain an educational message on subjects as diverse as women's rights, green issues, so called female circumcision, reproductive and children's health, HIV/Aids and rape.
Katie Elmore, director of communications at PMC told the Vermont Woman newspaper: "We start with a feasibility study and identify key stakeholders. We identify if mass media will work in that area. We simultaneously identify funding. We study policies and laws of the country, as well as UN policy on that topic. We gather qualitative information from villagers on a wide range of issues that are important to them. We will find out about the food people have for breakfast, so the soap operas will be realistic."
In Britain, yet another revolution is brewing in the world of Soaps with the world's first soap on a phone, Persona. Right now it has quite a small audience, tens of thousands rather than the millions claimed by Coronation Street or East Enders, but Persona is growing fast.
It has the potential to be a model that will allow almost anyone to set up a tv station. When this baby starts to walk no-one knows where it will go. See http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/persona-drama/id417940950?mt=8 for further information.