Live 8 was dead on arrival at ABC. The prime-time highlights special from Saturday's concerts — featuring such heavy hitters as U2...

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Live 8 was dead on arrival at ABC.

The prime-time highlights special from Saturday’s concerts — featuring such heavy hitters as U2, Paul McCartney, Coldplay, The Who, Green Day and Pink Floyd — averaged a paltry 2.9 million viewers from 8 to 10 that night.

Viewers had plenty of chances to catch the concerts live earlier in the day on MTV, VH1 and mtvU, and America Online. Still, some industry experts were surprised by ABC’s underwhelming performance.

Brad Adgate, head of corporate research for Horizon Media, had predicted the special would draw about 10 million. Why? The lineup of performers would appeal to boomers, who are more likely to be home Saturday night.

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Time out for a quick reality check:

Saturday is the least-viewed night of the week, and historically viewership on summer holiday weekends is on life support.

“Saturday is just a rotten night,” Adgate concedes. “Networks don’t put anything on Saturday nights, even in the fall.”

How bad were ABC’s numbers? Let us count the ways.

1. Live 8 was the least-watched original program on ABC since an episode of the improv show “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” on Aug. 8, with 2.1 million viewers.

2. It was the least-watched original program on ABC in the 8-to-10 p.m. Saturday slot since the Latino Alma Awards on June 1, 2002.

3. It finished a distant fourth in the time slot, almost 2 million viewers behind No. 3 Fox, with “Cops” and “America’s Most Wanted.” It was beaten by repeats of “48 Hours” and “NCIS” on CBS.

Robert Thompson, director of Syracuse University’s Center for the Study of Popular Television, says that broadcast-TV coverage of such events as Live 8 will go the way of beauty pageants. (Dumped by ABC, Miss America recently went to cable’s CMT.)

“There’s not a broad enough appeal. A good portion of the broadcast audience doesn’t know who or what Coldplay is,” Thompson says.

Experts agree that cable is a perfect fit for Live 8 and similar programs, because it targets niche audiences and can devote numerous hours to live coverage.

Live 8 wasn’t all bad news for ABC, however.

The special was a “time buy,” which means the concert producers had already sold the advertising before the show aired. They “rented” the airtime from ABC — a win-win for the network. ABC usually does one “time buy” per year, a rep said.