Want to reach new viewers? Why not try — television?

The ABC owned stations “are all creators” as Localish becomes a linear channel

Localish has gone nationalish. The digital brand, introduced about 18 months ago by the ABC-owned stations, has a great new platform: broadcast television!

Okay, I’m being a bit of a wise guy. Localish’s feel-good and lifestyle stories, while designed for digital platforms, have always appeared on station newscasts as well. But on February 17, a new linear Localish channel made its debut in all eight ABC markets, available to an estimated 14 million viewers on the stations’ over-the-air subchannels. Localish replaces the Live Well network, which wasn’t living so well on content that hadn’t been refreshed in five years.

By contrast, the new Localish channel is an impressive example of intensive company-wide collaboration; the enduring power of linear TV; and how innovation at the fringes can help transform a core business. “It’s taking what we started as digital and moving it into the linear space, which as you know, is very rare: it’s usually moving linear to digital and repurposing what you see on TV onto digital platforms,” says Jennifer Mitchell, SVP for Content Development at the ABC Owned Television Stations. “So we’re really excited about and very proud of the fact that we’ve been able to stand up this very successful digital brand, and we are now able to expand to the linear space.”

Trailer for Localish

Localish is built around uplifting stories — the kind people are always telling you they want to see more of on television. ABC is betting that they mean it. “The data was showing us consistently across the board that people were really craving more positive storytelling in and around their communities,” says Mitchell. “We want to amplify the voices of the locals: their personalities are at the forefront of the stories that we tell,” says Localish executive producer Michael Koenigs. “We want to make people feel proud of the places they live and search for a better solution to a problem, rather than wallowing in despair about the state of the world.”

We’ve been writing about Localish since its early days, when its show More in Common, hosted by Koenigs, first began streaming on Facebook Watch. The show is now one of 10 programs anchoring the new channel — shows with you-can-probably-guess-the-premise names like Secretly Awesome, My Go-To, Bite Size, Pumped, Worth the Wait, Glam Lab, Stroke of Genius, All Good, and Out of Office. The common themes: local gems, local do-gooders, local trends worth knowing about.

An episode of Secretly Awesone

“The goal was to take short form content and make it compelling to an audience that’s sitting down and wanting more of a narrative,” Koenigs says. That meant converting a wealth of short-form content, most of it generated by the local stations themselves, into a slate of linear programs. “We could basically take the thousand plus videos that we created in year one and find hosts and narrative threads to make them compelling half hour shows,” Koenigs says.

When Localish started, stations were “asked” to provide at least one story a week that would resonate beyond the market: “locally sourced, nationally relevant” is how ABC puts it. We told you about KFSN-TV Fresno’s explosive (the word “viral” is a no-no these days) success with a story about a California farmer who makes luffa sponges — still the second-most-popular Localish story ever, with 23 million views on Facebook alone.

The stations are still the bedrock on which the venture sits — arguably more than ever. Koenigs estimates that 120 people throughout the company spend at least part of their time producing Localish stories. The eight stations are now each generating at least half a dozen Localish stories a week for small teams in New York and Chicago to shape into programs. “The stations are all contributors, they’re all creators as part of the brand,” says Jennifer Mitchell. “We invent and incubate pilots and show formats, and then once we feel like we have them in a good place, we roll those concepts out to the stations. The stations begin doing their work: they research, they book, they go out, they shoot, they edit, they then funnel all that content back to the core team. And then we take that content and produce the long-form shows out of it.”

An episode of Worth the Wait

“The other really exciting part of our success with Localish is that it’s really opened up new revenue opportunities for us,” says Mitchell, citing the advertiser-friendly subject matter. Hiscox, an insurance company catering to small businesses, is sponsoring the entire season of Secretly Awesome, a show about local entrepreneurs having an impact. And the channel creates branded content and integrations for clients as well, as in an episode of the travel show Out of Office underwritten by and featuring the Monarch Beach Resort in California’s Orange County.

All the Localish stories still live on digital platforms too, which gives Koenigs and the stations valuable metrics and audience feedback about which stories resonate most strongly. That helps inform content on the new channel. “They can’t talk to a TV set, but they can find us on these digital platforms,” he says. “And so there’s really a sense that they can connect with us in a more personal way.” And the stations compete amongst themselves to create the week’s biggest hit — a constant search for the next luffa farm.

“We’re trying to get a traditional linear audience to accept content that’s created with a more digital style and feel. And so far, we’ve seen no reason to think that people aren’t accepting it that way,” says Cheryl Fair, president and GM of KABC in Los Angeles. “But the fact is, you can watch this content in the digital space. And it feels right in both locations.” Fair, who spearheaded ABC’s experiment with community journalists embedded in their neighborhoods, has embraced Localish at the station, rebranding a Sunday lifestyle show Eye on LA as Localish LA. Fresno’s Localish Central Valley expands from a monthly show to twice a month in April, and Localish Bay Area is coming soon from KGO in San Francisco. Nationally, Good Morning America recently “partnered” with Localish for a story in its “Good Morning Sunshine” series.

At KABC, the new focus on Localish stories — which appear on newscasts, on the new channel, on digital platforms and on the Sunday show — has broken down some traditional barriers. “There are so many platforms that we are serving, and I think that the coordination between news and non-news is important to make sure that we’re serving the right content on the right platform at the right time,” says Fair. “The VP of content and marketing and the new VP of news are basically attached at the hip. There’s one big pot of stew now. You know, it used to be very siloed. We’re not siloed anymore.”

Localish “is very much an experimental sandbox,” says Jennifer Mitchell. Conceptually, what ABC has drawn in that sandbox looks like a virtuous circle — a symbiotic synthesis of digital and linear, news and entertainment, local and national, content and commerce. What began as a relatively low-risk innovation — a few stories a week around the country, a Facebook Watch show — is now having a broader impact on style, story selection, and business across the company. Digital success is now spurring linear evolution — an irony not lost on Mitchell. “We’re just now going to be truly multi-platform.”

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