Paxson aims to net family

With much fanfare, Lowell (Bud) Paxson formally unveiled his bid Wednesday to launch a new broadcast network with family-friendly programming.

Paxson personally held news conferences in the morning in New York and in the evening in Beverly Hills to introduce PaxNet, a 24-hour programming service to be carried by Paxson Communications’ 73 TV stations starting Aug. 31. Paxson also aims to sign up affiliates, both broadcast and cable, along the lines of the traditional network business model.

“We are basically 73 independent TV stations that are going to be united with good family-oriented programming that has very little sex, very little violence,” Paxson said. “With the demise of what we know (on the established networks) as family programming, we know we have a shot at reaching a female-dominated audience.”

Paxson predicts the network will be available in 83% of U.S. TV households at its Aug. 31 launch. In spite of that reach, the company will focus on selling local TV spots rather than packaging national ads, because “that’s where the opportunity is in a fragmented TV landscape,” Paxson said.

Paxson also aims to sign cable affiliates in markets where he owns no stations by waiving subscriber fees to cable operators, and offering them a bigger chunk of local inventory to sell.

Paxson projects revenues of $400 million in the first year if he can muster a 1.0 rating. Broadcast industry veterans were skeptical of that figure, noting that the costs associated with launching a new program service often are hard to predict.

Business sense

Paxson said he reversed an earlier plan to sell blocks of airtime to cable programmers and other program suppliers because controlling ad sales himself made more business sense.

And he rebuffed proposals, led by one from Turner Broadcasting, to buy his company and supply programming to it, saying he didn’t want to be dependent on a single supplier.

“We had to go it alone because nobody wanted to pay us for (the value of) our stations. We could never come to terms with anybody about what the stations are worth.”

All told, Paxson will spend $237 million a year on network expenses, including $70 million in annualized program costs and $30 million on marketing, limited almost exclusively to episodic promos on female-skewing radio stations.

He’s planning to add 600 new employees, mostly in sales, to Paxson’s existing 1,400 staffers, over the next 10 months. He’s building a new 220,000-sq.-ft. headquarters in West Palm Beach, Fla., and he’s changing the company’s stock symbol to PAX from PXN, effective Nov. 24.

As previously reported, Paxson confirmed that his weeknight primetime lineup will consist of three off-network shows recently purchased from CBS: “Touched by an Angel,” “Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman” and “Promised Land.”

The network will also have a few original programs, including a new talkshow with infomercial guru Mike Levey, which will air at 11 p.m., followed by a five-hour overnight block of Christian programming supplied by Focus on the Family, a conservative advocacy group, which also will supply a roster of feature films. Infomercials will continue to run on Paxson’s stations from 9 a.m. to mid-afternoon on weekends.

Ad-buyers reacted cautiously to Paxson’s move, seeing value in simply another option that could cause downward pressure on pricing.

“I really very much believe in the more the merrier,” said Robert Igiel, exec VP at Young & Rubicam. “The more methods of distribution, the more places we have to place our ads, the more prices will be reasonable.”

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