ABC Spark is a Canadian English language Category B digital cable and satellite television specialty channel that is owned by 8135274 Canada Inc., a joint venture between Corus Entertainment (which owns a controlling 51% interest) and Shaw Media (which owns the remaining 49%). The channel is based on the U.S. cable network ABC Family and focuses on programming primarily aimed at teenagers and preteens with additional general interest family programming. Its name licensed from the Disney-ABC Television Group division of The Walt Disney Company, which owns ABC Family.
The announcement of the formation of ABC Spark occurred on October 26, 2011 as part of a program licensing agreement between Corus Entertainment and The Walt Disney Company. Prior to the announcement of the channel's launch, original programming from ABC Family had been airing in Canada on other specialty channels including Bell Media-owned MuchMusic. The use of the name "ABC Spark", as opposed to "ABC Family", is presumably to avoid any confusion with the existing Canadian cable channel Family Channel (presently owned by Bell Media under a blind trust), which incidentally draws most of its foreign programming from ABC Family's sister cable network Disney Channel.
ABC Spark is not subject to the requirements imposed on the American ABC Family by that channel's original owner, the Christian Broadcasting Network, which launched that network as the CBN Satellite Service in 1977.
Selected ABC Family programs that were set to air on ABC Spark began airing in special sneak preview blocks in advance of the network's launch starting on January 16, 2012 on Corus-owned sister channels YTV, W Network, and CMT Canada.
The channel's broadcast licence, tentatively known then as Harmony, was approved by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) in February 2012.
The channel had a formal on-air launch date of March 26, 2012, however Corus had "soft launched" the channel three days earlier on March 23 (the same day that Dusk, another Corus-owned channel, was shut down) in both standard and high definition. Upon its soft launch, ABC Spark was initially made available to subscribers of Access Communications, Cogeco, Novus, Shaw Cable, Westman Communications, Source Cable and EastLink, among other cable providers. Rogers Cable and Vidéotron were the largest Canadian pay television providers that did not carry ABC Spark at launch; as such, the channel's carriage in major metropolitan areas such as Toronto, Quebec City and Montreal had been limited to national satellite providers Bell TV and Shaw Direct, and IPTV provider Bell Fibe TV. Vidéotron added the channel in August 2012; while ABC Spark began to be carried on Rogers Cable on December 6, 2012, initially available as part of a two-month free preview that ran until February 4, 2013.
Shortly after the channel's launch, the CRTC published notice of a pending application to transfer the ABC Spark licence to the numbered company which previously owned Dusk, which is 51% owned by Corus and 49% owned by Shaw Media. However, on March 4, 2013, Corus Entertainment announced that it would acquire Shaw Media's 49% ownership interest in ABC Spark, in a larger transaction that would see Corus also acquire Shaw's 50% interest in Historia and Séries+, while Corus would sell their 22.58% stake in Food Network. In total, Shaw would receive net proceeds of approximately $95 million in cash.
Programming airing on ABC Spark acquired from ABC Family includes comedies Baby Daddy and Melissa & Joey, and dramas Twisted, Switched at Birth, The Fosters, and The Secret Life of the American Teenager. In addition to the aforementioned original programming from ABC Family, much of the channel's schedule also includes syndicated third-party programs, including a few series that are currently airing or have aired in the past on ABC Family in the U.S. (such as My Wife and Kids, Smallville, America's Funniest Home Videos and Wipeout), and select original programming from ABC Spark sister channel YTV (such as How to Be Indie and Mr. Young). The channel will also hold its own versions of ABC Family's 25 Days of Christmas and 13 Nights of Halloween events, which lead up to their respective holidays with special programming and films.
In addition to the programming differences between ABC Family and ABC Spark mentioned above, ABC Spark's weekend schedule includes a primetime movie on Saturday and Sunday evenings at 8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT (with far fewer movies on its weekly schedule in comparison to ABC Family, whose weekend daytime and evening schedule is composed almost entirely of feature films and original made-for-TV movies, and runs a primetime feature on weeknights where no original programming is scheduled); also unlike ABC Family, ABC Spark's schedule consists entirely of entertainment programming, and the network does not offer paid programming time to commercial or religious organizations in overnight and early morning periods in favor of a schedule loop for viewers in the Pacific Time Zone, older programming, and content sourced from other Corus-owned networks.
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