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ABC Digital Channel Doubles Program Slate

Live Well HD, the digital channel launched last spring by ABC, doubles its program slate this week with six new shows. Airing in high-definition on the 10 ABC O&Os' digital tiers, Live Well launched in April with six programs. Six more weekly half-hour shows were set to debut on Jan. 11, including WPVI Philadelphia's finance program Mary Talks Money and WABC New York's tech-for-novices show Gotta Know.

While Live Well is not Nielsen-rated, its principals say that the ad-supported channel is profitable. “We're getting a lot of new advertisers that maybe couldn't afford [stations' main channels],” says Bill Burton, the ABC O&Os' digital-media executive VP. “It's really turned the channel into a robust business.”

Stations have a wide selection of digital channels available to them, such as entertainment options This TV and RTV, and multicultural networks like LATV and Estrella. Stations like the idea of expanding their reach, but typically have had trouble making money on the ventures.

The Live Well shows aim for broad national appeal. With the new batch, which includes KGO San Francisco's Everyday Living, seven of the 10 owned stations are producing shows for Live Well. Outside shops are also contributing, such as the environmentally themed Save My Planet and My Green House, and celebrity chef Rick Bayless' Mexico—One Plate at a Time, which previously aired on PBS stations.

ABC will look to expand its slate again later this year. The network is also in talks with other broadcasters about picking up Live Well and expanding its reach around the country; it currently reaches 24% of U.S. households. “We've had some interest from other groups,” says WLS Chicago President/General Manager Emily Barr.

For the first time, stations can air select Live Well shows on their main channels as well. Those programs are Mary Talks Money, KFSN Fresno's Motion and KTRK Houston's Mirror/Mirror.

According to Barr, some Live Well originals might emerge as candidates to take over time slots when The Oprah Winfrey Show ends its broadcast run in 2011. “It was not designed with that in mind, but it's a fantastic place to incubate and grow new programming,” she says.

Acknowledging the rigors of launching a channel in the worst economic situation imaginable, Barr and Burton say staffers have been energized by creating shows from scratch. “Most people got into the business for that reason,” Barr says. Adds Burton: “We haven't had to twist any arms.”

Michael Malone
Michael Malone

Michael Malone, senior content producer at B+C/Multichannel News, covers network programming, including entertainment, news and sports on broadcast, cable and streaming; and local broadcast television. He hosts the podcasts Busted Pilot, about what’s new in television, and Series Business, a chat with the creator of a new program, and writes the column “The Watchman.” He joined B+C in 2005. His journalism has also appeared in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Playboy and New York magazine.