American Broadcasting Cos., Inc., which owns the nation's top-ranked television network, is planning to produce motion pictures for motive theaters.

Chairman Leonard H. Goldenson told shareholders today that the movie-making venture is still embryonic, but that the field is one in which the chances of making money are high and the risk of failing is low.

He noted that in the past 10 years there has been a "proliferation" of movie theaters at the same time that few "quality" motion pictures are being made.

ABC, he said, has "developed considerable expertise in evaluating film properties, primarily through its role in commissioning or producing motion pictures for television."

Hee reported that first quarter earnings were $25 million (91 cents a share) compared with $23 million (84 cents) during the first quarter of 1978. Sales were up to $451 million from $415 million.

He said the company is in a strong position, with $250 million in cash at the end of the year, which means ABC will not need to borrow money during a period of high interest rates. He said he hoped that ABC's dividend, now $1.20 a year, would be raised.

Besides entering the movie-production business, Goldenson said ABC also is exploring entering businesses such as producing programs on videotape cassettes for home viewers.

In the past year, ABC has sold off many marginal or money-losing operations, such as its record and tape division and one of its leisure parks, the Historic Town of Smithville, which is near Atlantic City, N.J.

At the same time, it has sharply expanded its publishing operations, recently buying The Chilton Co., which publishes business and trade magazines such as Iron Age.

ABC also has acquired three other publishing firms in the past year - Miller Publishing (farm magazines), Hitchcock Publishing (business magazines) and R. L. White (real estate communications).

ABC President Elton H. Rule said the company is a "major factor in special periodical publishing, which is a particularly attractive industry."

But the core of the company, is the ABC television network, which has been top-ranked for three years. Rule told shareholders that 31 stations have joined the network since January 1976.

Goldenson predicted that ABC news, which has been third-ranked, will vault over second-place NBC by the end of the year. In one recent week, ABC edged out NBC news, but NBC regained second-position the following week.

Reed Irvine, of Accuracy in Medica, criticized ABC's coverage of several news stories, including one concerning a potentially dangerous herbicide, whose dangers Irvine claimed were blown out of proportion by ABC.

Goldenson responded that the herbicide, two-four-five-T, was placed under emergency suspension by the Environmental Protection Agency last March, which he said vindicates ABC's treatment of the story.

Irvine replied that it was reporting like ABC's that pushed the EPA into banning the herbicide.

Goldenson rejected a call from Irvine and Lester Kinsolving, another media critic who also writes from Washington, for an ombudsman for ABC news who would second-guess coverage.

Several major newspapers including The Washington Post, have ombudsmen who critique new coverage by their employers.

Goldenson said the network's "FaceOf" feature on its Good Morning America program - in which major figures on both sides of an issue square off - more than fulfills the role and ombudsman would play in assuring fair coverage. CAPTION: Picture, Elton H. Rule, president and chief operating officer of American Broadcasting Companies Inc., addresses shareholders at annual meeting in New York. AP