ABC Multicasts Live Well HD Channel

In a bid to become a supplier of quality content for multicast TV signals, ABC’s owned-and-operated TV station group is close to signing its first syndication deal with a station in a top 10 market for its Live Well HD channel. Based on where ABC doesn’t own stations, the four potential markets are Boston, Atlanta, Washington, D.C., and Dallas. (None of the stations would comment.)

Launched in late April but in development for two years, Living Well runs as a multicast channel in ABC’s 10 O&O markets (including area cable systems), but it’s also a Web site. Content revolves around home, health and lifestyle programming, all of it produced in high-def.

According to BIA, there are at least 900 multicast channels, but monetization is a big challenge. BIA estimates that only 50 or so—mostly in midsized and small markets—made money in 2008. ABC officials claim Live Well HD is a money-making proposition. Next January, LWHD will expand its original content from three hours to six, on its way to becoming a full-fledged TV channel.

“We want to be the program supplier to stations looking for original programming for their digital signal,” said Bill Burton, executive vp of digital media for ABC’s O&O group, one of the architects of the channel along with Emily Barr, president and general manager of WLS-TV in Chicago.

Unlike most multicast offerings, which repurpose out-of-date programming or re-broadcast the prior day’s newscasts or sports event, LWHD’s programming is all original (its three hours are looped throughout the day). All content is made by ABC’s O&Os. For example, WLS produces cooking show Let’s Dish while Mirror/Mirror comes out of KTRK in Houston, and KFSN makes the outdoorsy Motion.

To make it appealing even to non-ABC affiliates, LWHD bears no ABC branding on it. “We wanted to create a wholly separate channel that would live on its own,” said Barr.
Advertisers have taken notice. About 70 percent of advertising is local, but LWHD has managed to attract national advertisers such as General Mills (Progresso Soups and Yoplait) and CouponCabin.com. AT&T and Toyota have also been involved with the new channel.
“As the footprint and clearances grow, there is a possibility of a better national play,” said Burton.

Five months into the all-digital era of TV, multicasting is something of a cottage industry. Some stations align with a network such as The CW, MyNetworkTV or Estrella TV. Weather and news are also popular options. A growing crop of multicast providers peddle repurposed old movies or TV shows, including RTV “Retro TV”, which has 128 affiliates. Even NBC is serving up its affiliates with a Universal Sports channel.