The network's programming was oriented towards the soap opera genre; on launch, Soapnet carried primetime encores of ABC's current soaps, as well as reruns of classic daytime and primetime soap opera series. Soapnet also broadcast programming related to soap operas, including news and behind the scenes programs. In later years, Soapnet increased its focus on acquired reruns of drama series.
Due in part to a general decline in the soap opera genre as a whole, and the growing adoption of digital video recorders, cable/satellite video on demand, and streaming video options making its primetime soap encores increasingly unnecessary on a traditional linear network, Disney announced in 2010 that Soapnet would be replaced by the new preschool-oriented network Disney Junior, which launched in March 2012. While some providers removed Soapnet upon the launch of Disney Junior, the channel continued to operate, but its operations were wound down. Soapnet signed off on December 31, 2013.
When Soapnet launched on January 20, 2000, the channel aired only current ABC soap operas in the evening and early morning, so that people who were at work or school during the day could watch them at their convenience. Programming was inclusive, as the channel was owned by ABC. Soapnet eventually gained high cable carriage due to Disney's aggressive policy of pulling ABC-owned broadcast stations and the popular ESPN channels from cable providers if they did not agree to carry Soapnet as well. This was the main reason for ABC owned-and-operated station WABC-TV being pulled from Time Warner Cable's New York City system for two days in May 2000.
When Soapnet was announced, Sony Pictures Entertainment planned to launch a competing cable channel and website called SoapCity, which would air all CBS soap operas and the Sony-owned/produced NBC soap Days of Our Lives. The plans for the SoapCity cable channel were abandoned early in 2000 after Sony failed to secure cable carriage, though the website component remained.
Soapnet's inaugural lineup aired current soaps such as All My Children, One Life to Live and General Hospital, along with canceled daytime and nighttime soaps such as Port Charles, Falcon Crest, Knots Landing, The Colbys, Hotel, Sisters, and Ryan's Hope. As the years went on, Soapnet introduced original programming such as Soap Center and Soap Talk; the latter of which was nominated for several Daytime Emmy Awards, most recently in 2006 for Best Talk Show Host(s). Soap Center, which debuted on Soapnet's launch day schedule, was initially hosted by former soap stars Brooke Alexander and David Forsyth. They were replaced the following year by Peggy Bunker discussing soaps taped on the East Coast and Tanika Ray discussing West Coast-based soaps. By 2003, Bunker was let go; soon after, the show ceased filming original material.
Other original series included 1 Day With, a half-hour program featuring interviews with soap actors, that was hosted by General Hospital actor Wally Kurth; I Wanna Be a Soap Star, a recurring reality series in which twelve young actors compete for a contract role on a daytime soap; and Soapography, a 30-minute show profiling the lives and current shows of two different soap opera actors.
In 2002, Soapnet began airing reruns of Dynasty, and by 2003, the channel added highly requested programming such as reruns of Another World and Dallas; replacing Falcon Crest, The Colbys, Hotel, and Sisters. In 2004, Soapnet acquired the rights to broadcast Days of Our Lives episodes on a same-day basis. The channel also aired the 1975 to 1981 episodes of Ryan's Hope, which had not been seen on television since its 1989 cancellation by ABC. At that time, many viewers who did not have Soapnet at its inception petitioned to have the channel broadcast the show from the very beginning. In 2003, the channel aired the first episodes starting on St. Patrick's Day.