Pax’s uneven debut

Netlet scores in some markets, bores in others

Pax TV got off to a predictably uneven start in its national debut Monday, but the upstart web’s primetime slate of “Touched by an Angel” and “Diagnosis Murder” reruns scored better-than-expected Nielsen numbers in Gotham and other markets.

The first-day numbers for Pax TV’s primetime slate ranged from a 3.3 household rating in New Orleans and Sacramento to zip — no measurable viewing activity — in Columbus, Ohio, and Jacksonville, Fla. National ratings for the Paxson Communications-backed family friendly web won’t be available until next week.

Pax TV has anchored its primetime sked around nightly 8 p.m. reruns of the CBS hit “Touched by an Angel,” which made its off-net debut Monday, but Dick Van Dyke’s enduring “Diagnosis Murder” outrated the newer “Touched” in many markets.

Pax TV, which bowed at noon Monday, also is offering a daytime slate of reruns and original programs, but the vast majority of its promo push thus far has been for its primetime slate. Reruns of another CBS hit, “Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman,” join the lineup on Sept. 14.

As with any startup web, the biggest factor influencing the first-day numbers was the prior strength of the stations in their individual markets. Most of Pax TV’s 75-plus station affiliates, the majority of which are owned by Paxson, were airing infomercials and other paid programming before Monday’s launch, and therefore were not widely known to general interest viewers.

Wide variation

Moreover, Pax TV’s affiliate lineup has widely varying degrees of signal strength, a distribution handicap that Fox, UPN and the WB Network have also faced in their battles with the Big Three. So far, all of Pax TV’s O&Os and affil stations are on the weaker UHF band, which puts them far above channel 13 on most dials.

In Chicago, for example, where Pax TV earned a 2.6 in primetime on Monday, the web airs on a station, WCFC, that was a well-established religious broadcaster until its purchase by Paxson earlier this year. In L.A., Pax TV garnered a 0.7 in primetime on a station that until Monday was strictly infomercial territory.

In Gotham, Pax TV on WPXN averaged a 1.5 household rating in primetime, peaking at a 2.4 rating and 4 share during the last 15 minutes of the “Diagnosis Murder” vidpic. The station trailed its commercial English-lingo competitors Monday, but the 1.5 was light years ahead of the 0.2 the station averaged in primetime in July with infomercials and time-buy programs from Bloomberg Business News and Fox Sports. Each ratings point represents 980,000 homes.

All caveats aside, Pax TV execs said they were quite happy with the network’s showing on day one.

“There has been a lot of skepticism that we would be able to draw any numbers with our distribution system, but now it’s clear that from day one that we can,” said Jeff Sagansky, the former CBS Entertainment prexy who’s now spearheading Pax TV as prexy and CEO.

“We know it’s going to take some time to build, but the excellent ratings that some of our stations got (Monday) proves that it’s programming that drives an audience. Now it’s really a matter of letting people know where they can find the programs that they already know and love.”

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