Digital net goes out to non O&O's for the first time

The broadcast nets are finally starting to get serious about programming and distribution for the fledgling digital channels run by their O&O stations.

ABC has lined up five Belo Corp.-owned ABC affiliates to carry its Live Well Network, which launched late last year as a digital offering on ABC’s 10 O&Os. The Belo stations will begin carrying the channel on Nov. 8 when Live Well launches six new skeins, bringing its total lineup of original series to 18 half-hours.

The digital net, which focuses on health, home and lifestyle-oriented programs, is advertiser supported by such sponsors as General Mills and AT&T as well as smaller advertisers like the Hawaii Convention and Visitors Bureau.

As part of its expansion push, ABC O&Os have tapped Peggy Allen, a former programming exec at Lifetime and WCVB-TV Boston, to serve as veep of production for Live Well.

Emily Barr, prexy and g.m. of ABC O&O WLS-TV in Chicago, helped develop the net when it became apparent that local stations needed more content to fill their digital channels. She says they’ve gone to great pains to make sure that their programming isn’t branded with the ABC logos. Live Well also has a companion website, Livewellnetwork.com, that ABC is beefing up with original content to make for an attractive TV and web combo offering to prospective affiliates.

“We purposely created something that was network-agnostic so that it could potentially go into syndication on NBC or CBS affiliates,” Barr said.

The NBC O&Os have a similar venture dubbed New York Nonstop that aims to expand beyond NBC O&Os. But ABC’s pact with Belo marks the first time that stations not owned and operated by a network have inked for digital channel carriage. The more distribution the channels have, the more they will be attractive to national advertisers.

“Our backbone was that we have all these local television stations that know how to produce programming,” Barr said.

In fact, ABC affiliates produce more than half of the upcoming slate of new series.

KGO-TV in San Francisco produces “Good Cookin’ with Bruce Aidell,” while KABC-TV in Los Angeles produces food-and-fitness skein “Custom Fit” as well as celeb news/gossip show “OTRC: On the Red Carpet.”

The Belo stations carrying Live Well are WFAA-TV Dallas, KMOV-TV St. Louis, WWL-TV New Orleans, WVEC-TV Norfolk, Va., and WCNC-TV in Charlotte, N.C.

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