Live Well Network's Demise Follows Advertiser Resistance, CBS Plans (Analysis)

Joey Fatone is the host of one Live Well show, "My Family Recipe Rocks"

UPDATED: ABC-Disney is shutting down the lifestyle network that runs on digital sub-channels in mid-January with plans to substitute more locally-produced programming.

The Live Well Network, which was launched by ABC in 2009 to take advantage of digital sub-channels created by the conversion to digital over the air broadcasting, will shut down in January 2015.

Although the over the air service reaches about 64 percent of all U.S. TV homes through broadcast, online, cable and wireless services, the ABC-owned stations “made a strategic decision that our priority must be local content, and we want to maximize our investment in our core local news brands in the digital space" -- or so read an announcement Monday from Rebecca Campbell, president of the ABC-owned stations, and Peggy Allen, vp of Live Well Network.

Layoffs are expected at the ABC-owned stations confirmed an ABC spokesperson but the number is expected to be low. How many will lose their jobs is unclear at this time.

The decision to shut down Live Well appears primarily to be driven by the difficulty of selling advertising around the programming. “The economics didn’t work,” said Bill Carroll, vp, director of programming for Katz Media. “It’s difficult for [broadcaster’s] to sell smaller audiences when advertisers are used to broadcast delivering bigger numbers. It’s just that simple.”

An ABC rep would not comment on whether Live Well was ever profitable; but the shows were done on modest budgets and most were produced using existing facilities of the local stations (although a few were picked up from outside).

Programs include My Family Recipe Rocks, hosted by Joey Fatone; Live Big with Ali Vincent (who was the first female winner on the Biggest Loser); and Motion, hosted by hiking guru Greg Aiello. Live Well also picked up Steven & Chris, a one hour lifestyle series hosted by Canadian personalities Steven Sabados and Chris Hyndman; Laura McKenzie’s Traveler; and Mexico: One Plate At A Time.

Carroll thinks the shut down may also have been influenced by a recent announcement from CBS that it is creating a new digital news network which will likely be carried in the digital space. “They may be reacting to what CBS is doing,” says Carroll, “and not want to be in the lifestyle arena and at a disadvantage when CBS is launching this new news channel.”

When the digitalization of TV came about, there was an expectation that there would be a lot of new and independent channels taking advantage of the space; but for the most part that has not been the case.

An ABC spokesperson denied rumors Disney is preparing to sell some of its broadcast spectrum in the upcoming FCC spectrum auction; and Disney has refuted rumors in the past two years it might sell all of it’s owned TV stations.

Eric Sherman, CEO of Veria Living, another competitor in the digital space (although it is also on cable, satellite and Telcoms), called the shutdown of Living Well "disappointing" and said it harms viewers: "There surely is no shortage of options for those interested in adult-themed and salacious programming, yet once again the media world is turning its back on those who desire positive, wellness content...Our unwavering strategy is to continue to embrace and serve the health and wellness needs of the growing audience hungry for this content.”

Live Well was not just carried by ABC’s eight owned stations. Among independent stations groups that air the network in some or all of their markets are Belo, Gannett, Hubbard, Grey, SJL, Scripps, Citadel, Young and Media General. It also had carriage in a handful of markets as a stand-alone cable channel.