JESSELL AT LARGE

Live Well Could Be A Model For D2 Success

What distinguishes this diginet from the host of others vying for subchannel carriage is its heavy emphasis on original programming, which is being produced by the ABC O&Os. It’s leveraging the underutilized talents and facilities of TV stations. And if, as hoped, more get on board, it could become a true programming cooperative where everybody contributes and takes at the same time.

Broadcasters have been experimenting with multicasting since well before the final hop to DTV in 2009, but have yet to come up with a winning formula.

Remember, NBC Weather Plus? It was one of the more ambitious undertakings. In 2004, NBC and its affiliates combined their resources to offer a weather channel combining national and local elements. It faded away like the early morning fog.

Music  videos, classic TV,  popular movies, bilingual Hispanic, Spanish-language Hispanic, Olympic-style sports — they’ve all been tried and, in fact, are still being tried by broadcasters as well as entrepreneurs who believe they have a better idea or a new spin on an old idea.

But I have yet to hear any broadcasters gush about how the addition of this or that is changing the economics of their business in the way that, say, retrans has. The best adjectives they can muster to describe their multicasting channel or, in today’s parlance, D2 channel is “interesting,” “a work in progress” or “nice.”

Of course, there is nothing wrong with a “nice” additional revenue stream. And there are a bunch of D2s that hope to be just that. In just the past year or so, several more have popped up, including Antenna TV (classic TV), The Country Network (music video), Me-TV (classic TV) and The Cool TV (music video).

The one that intrigues me most, however, is Live Well, the 2009 ABC entry that I learned more about in my interview with the two women running it, Emily Barr and Peggy Allen. We posted the interview Tuesday.

BRAND CONNECTIONS

It’s a lifestyle channel aimed at women — health/fitness, personal finance, fashion and cooking. The concept has been proven by cable several times over. You can get a good taste of it on Live Well’s website.

What distinguishes this “diginet” (yet another appellation) is its heavy emphasis on original programming, which is being produced by the ABC O&Os.

With that emphasis, you might say that Live Well is a second-generation multicast channel, leaving behind the first-generation channels that continue to rely on movies, reruns and other warmed-over offerings.

The Live Well model leverages the underutilized talents and facilities of TV stations. That means that ABC’s stations can produce attractive programming on the cheap, which is exactly what you must do these days until the audiences catch up with you.

Live Well’s fate in still uncertain, but Belo’s commitment to carry it in five markets last fall was an important endorsement.

The answer from the interview I liked best came from Barr. She said that she and Allen have talked to Belo and other prospective affiliates about their creating programming for the network.

It’s a wonderful idea. Live Well could become the platform for the output from many stations — a true programming cooperative where everybody contributes and takes at the same time.

If Live Well doesn’t do it, somebody else should. Certainly, any affiliate in the top 25 markets is capable discovering great talent. If American’s Got Talent can find child soprano Jackie Evancho in Pittsburgh, WTAE or WPXI can find the next great TV personality there. (Hey, where do you think Bill Cullen came from?)

I also believe that any affiliate in the top 25 markets is capable of producing a quality show, although that may be wishful thinking. It’s been a long time since TV stations have been staffed up to produce programming that could compete on the national level. Do stations still have that kind of talent hanging around? Can stations still attract that caliber of creativity?

History offers some encouragement. Starting in 1976, Group W had a good run with Evening and PM Magazine, a cooperative prime access show that recruited stations to contribute segments. It peaked at more than 100 participating stations in the early 1980s, but hung on until the end of the decade when turnkey syndicated shows proved more cost effective.

Live Well is a chance for TV stations to get back in the programming game with the opportunity to reach the entire nation. (This presumes that Live Well can grow its distribution. It’s at 29% coverage now, and hopes to get to at least 50% by the end of the year.)

The incentive would be money, of course. If a Live Well station comes up with the winner, that program will soon find its way from the subchannels to the main channels just as Oprah once found her way from local TV to national syndication.

By combining their programming resources under a common banner, broadcasters should be able to eventually develop the kind of breakthrough shows that made TLC (Trading Spaces), The Food Network (Emeril) and Bravo (Queer Eye for the Straight Guy) enormously profitable.

It may take a while. Cable’s strategy is to throw shows up against the LCD display in rapid succession and sees what sticks. It sounds nutty and wasteful, but it works. Of course, basic cable networks have always worked with programming fees that help carry them past the many shows that fail.

ABC is smart to insist on that all programming be produced in HD, even though it’s broadcasting the service in something short of true HD (HD Lite?). HD production means the breakout shows can make the leap to the main channels. (It also preserves the shows’ downstream value.)

Of all the multicast plays, I’ve heard and written about over the past several years, Live Well is the most ambitious and probably the costliest and therefore the riskiest.

But it’s also the one most likely to elicit a much more robust evaluation than a lukewarm shrug and a “nice.”


Harry A. Jessell is editor of TVNewsCheck. He can be reached at 973-701-1067 or mailto:[email protected]. You can read his other columns here.


Comments (2)

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Robert Klein says:

February 25, 2011 at 9:55 pm

In Los Angeles, we’ve had Live Well since it started on KABC 7.2, and we were also one of the charter markets for Antenna TV. Though Antenna TV is a “classic TV” reruns network, I find I watch it more than the main stations. Even more than Live Well. Judging by the demand for Antenna TV by fans on Facebook, it’s gaining traction. It’s because of Live Well, Antenna TV, ThisTV, Universal Sports and more that cable isn’t necessary anymore, at least in my case. I thoroughly enjoy the 30+ watchable DTV stations of the 95 I can pick up. Haven’t had cable in over 2 years and don’t need it.

mike tomasino says:

February 28, 2011 at 12:36 pm

Sub-channels are cool as long as they offer decent picture quality. I haven’t seen LiveWell yet, but I’ve heard that the HD lite is pretty bad!!! Sure, produce everything in HD, but when you broadcast leverage your bit rates so your dot 2 channel looks good, and your not stealing a lot of bits from your main channel. You may have a lot of good content on your sub, but if it doesn’t look good, people aren’t going to watch!!! Hear that KKTV?


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