The term references the advent of drama created to sell soap, soap operas. Broadcast on radio with soap manufacturers such as Procter & Gamble, Colgate-Palmolive, and Lever Brothers as sponsors and producers.
Bob: Huh? Sorry Alice I was zoned on this laundry detergent advert. Tide really does get my whites whiter and only 'mildly' pollutes our drinking water.
Alice: I'm thirsty.
Alien: Soap Opera Syndrome
Advertisements take airtime away from programs. In the 1960s a typical hour-long American show would run for 51 minutes excluding advertisements. Today, a similar program would only be 42 minutes long; a typical 30-minute block of time now includes 22 minutes of programming with 6 minutes of national advertising and 2 minutes of local.