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ABC News Now Leaving Airwaves

Jan 25, 2005  •  Post A Comment

Nearly three months after it had been scheduled to end, the grand experiment ABC News Now is set to leave the airwaves and cable operators’ digital tiers at 12:01 a.m. Jan. 29. However, the 24/7 news channel will continue to be available to tens of millions of subscribers via ABC News’ Web site, America Online, Yahoo!, RealNetworks and other outlets.

Michael Clemente has been named ABC News Now executive producer, which puts him in charge of the editorial side of the service and a permanently assigned staff. Mr. Clemente had been the acting executive producer, leading a borrowed staff since last spring, when ABC News President David Westin announced a three-month test of his dream of creating the first digital all-news channel in partnership with the ABC affiliates. The experiment, which offered news junkies alternative coverage of such events as the presidential nominating conventions and the back-to-back hurricanes that battered the United States last year and President Bush’s second inauguration last week, originally was to have ended after the 2004 general election.

Instead, Mr. Clemente, a veteran of ABC News and CNN, kept refining ABC News Now. And the digital format continued to be available for free over the air and via cable systems and satellite services carrying the signals from some 70 ABC-owned and ABC-affiliated stations reaching upward of 65 percent of the country.

“We feel very good about the product we have put on the air. We know we’ve got a product that works,” Mr. Westin said. He said the digital signal is going black to allow time to figure out a workable business plan, including the degree of affiliate participation.

Sources familiar with ongoing discussions between ABC and its affiliates said it is clear both sides want a digital national-local news network realized. But the network started bargaining by suggesting that the affiliates be 15 percent partners. The affiliates had envisioned a 50-50 relationship.

Mr. Westin’s only comment about the initial disparity on the stakes was: “I would say definitely that it has narrowed.

“There are a lot of issues. It’s a complicated situation,” the news executive said. Still, “I believe this is clearly the future: a true multimedia news service.”