Digi-Net Lived Well, But Not Very Long

Launching amidst a crippling recession, Live Well Network, an innovative attempt to master the tricky digi-net space, figured it could weather anything. The ABC-owned stations created programming centered around cooking, shelter and fitness, marquee station groups got on board and it appeared ABC had found a lucrative use for its multicast tier.

Almost six years later, Live Well is slated to go dark this month. UPDATED: ABC says Live Well will go dark for affiliate partners, but will continue on its owned stations, thought it will not produce new episodes of its various series.

The announcement in August that Live Well would cease elicited a veritable firestorm on broadcastingcable.com from dedicated viewers. “So upset,” commented balil228. “I just went to tune in to LWN after returning from vacation and some stupid old western was on....This really sucks, now I have to get cable.”

In the announcement, Rebecca Campbell, ABC Owned Television Stations president, said, “Our priority must be local content.”

Launching a lineup of originals on a digi-net is an increasingly quixotic mission. NBC had tried it years before, its “Nonstop” channels a mix of local news and lifestyle, before scrapping them for Cozi TV in late 2012. Like many digi-net entrants, Cozi—airing Starsky & Hutch and Charlie’s Angels, among others—offers broadly appealing, known-quantity programs that require relatively little marketing. On the back of previous launches Me-TV and This TV, Weigel Broadcasting will launch Decades for CBS’ owned stations. Airing the likes of I Love Lucy and Happy Days, Decades bills itself as “the ultimate TV time machine.”

Despite Live Well’s fate, Michael Kokernak, founder of subchannel consultancy Across Platforms, believes a strong original state will be a key differentiator in the crowded subchannel pack. “Originals are still the way to go,” he said. “Live Well Network is gone too soon.”

Live-ly Programming

Live Well launched in April 2009 with six half-hours of daily programming and the enviable distribution of the ABC owned group. While the shows were, for the most part, created by the stations, they were designed to appeal well beyond their home markets. Emily Barr, then WLS Chicago president and general manager, and Bill Burton, then group digital media executive VP, ran the day-to-day.

Early in 2010, Live Well doubled its programming slate and began to pull in affiliates; they included the Scripps group and stations owned by Belo and Allbritton.

Live Well topped out with around 64% U.S. distribution, but according to programming vets who wished to remain anonymous, the shows, such as the weight loss program Live Big With Ali Vincent did not stand out from similar offerings on cable. “The programming wasn’t compelling enough, and there wasn’t enough of it,” said one.

If promoting an original network made up of original shows is a mighty tall order, it’s a different story for Me-TV and its ilk. “I think there’s a certain comfort level the viewer has with shows like Magnum, P.I.,” said Barr, now president and CEO of Graham Media Group’s stations. “You know exactly what you get—the programs have a memory [in viewers’ minds] that’s very positive. You don’t have to think too hard about what you’re getting.”

Neither Campbell nor Peggy Allen, Live Well VP of programming, would comment. ABC has not announced its long term plans for its subchannels, though Campbell mentioned maximizing the investment in local news brands when the fate of Live Well was announced in August.

Seeking ‘Justice’

Affected affiliates are making plans for life after Live Well. Its Gannett affiliates are on board with Justice Network, the true-crime digi-net from Lonnie Cooper, cofounder of Bounce TV, former National Geographic Channel CEO Steve Schiffman and former NBCUniversal Domestic TV Distribution executive Barry Wallach. The network has lined up 400 hours of programming from the Turner Broadcasting library, and will also feature vignettes about fugitives and missing children.

Others are moving to Me-TV or Movies! or Decades; the latter will soft launch this month before its proper debut in May. Peter Dunn, CBS Television Stations president called Decades “the most ambitious and creative subchannel programming service that has ever been created.” Its original lineup will consist of one show, a daily hour called Decades Retrospectical that focuses on that day or week in history.

WKMG Orlando, the lone Graham Media station airing Live Well, will shift to Cozi TV. Emily Barr still believes an all-original digi-net can break through. “I’d like to think there’s room in that realm,” she said, “for networks to produce original programming.”


WBOC in Salisbury, Md., had its website and Twitter account hacked Jan. 6 by an individual or a group calling itself Cyber Caliphate. The hacker posted pro-Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) propaganda on both platforms, including comments such as “I love you ISIS” and “There is no law but Sharia!”

WBOC.com returned to normalcy later that afternoon while the station’s Twitter account was compromised for longer. One tweet read, in part: “INFIDELS, NEW YEAR WILL MAKE YOU SUFFER.”

“We are doing everything we can to correct the situation,” Craig Jahelka, WBOC general manager, said on WBOC.com. He could not be reached for further comment.

The Albuquerque Journal was similarly hacked by Cyber Caliphate. The FBI is investigating both breaches.

The hacker also posted stolen confidential information on the text-sharing site PasteBin, along with a link to WBOC.com.

Draper Communications owns WBOC, a market-leading CBS affiliate.

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.