Pax gets pieces of NBC

Family-oriented weblet runs NBC programming; network affiliates cry foul
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Yep, they're serious. NBC and Paxson Communications are remaking Pax TV with a good dose of NBC repurposed programming-not the least of which will be repeat broadcasts of NBC's flagship Nightly News With Tom Brokaw, to air on Pax just one hour after airing on NBC each evening. But the strategy goes beyond mere repurposing: NBC also plans to make fresh programming for Pax, the family-friendly weblet.

Paxson Communications President Jeff Sagansky confirmed that he has talked to NBC about its developing an original magazine show, as well as other original programs for Pax.

Last week, the two companies announced the first original programming to be supplied by NBC to Pax TV: 28 hours of Olympic trials to air throughout the summer leading up to the Sydney summer games in September.

Sagansky promised more joint program-venture announcements. "We've been having discussions about a number of different program initiatives" in the entertainment, sports and news genres," he said.

NBC West Coast President Scott Sassa is also working closely to develop projects with Pax. NBC acquired a 32% stake in Bud Paxson's nascent network last year.

"Nothing is going to happen overnight," Sassa said. "When you are working with a network that relies on off-network syndicated programming, generally speaking it takes at least three years to run through that stuff. Bud (Paxson) did a great job getting quality shows like Touched by an Angel and other series on to help start his network. The network will continue to have a mix of off-network series and original programs in the future, but it's not going to change drastically next season."

Sassa added that shows that don't have long "shelf lives" at NBC will likely be moving over to Pax sooner rather than later.

The Olympic Trials deal leads some to believe NBC might carve a small package of actual Olympic events for Pax, as it will do on CNBC and MSNBC. But NBC won't comment on that.

The Nightly News will air on Pax at 7:30 p.m., just one hour after it airs on most NBC affiliates around the country. "No one is happy about it," said Alan Frank, president, Post Newsweek Stations, and chairman of the NBC Affiliates board of governors. "But they seem committed to some kamikaze mission here. We don't understand it." Previous repurposing efforts included Today on MSNBC and Conan O'Brien on CNBC.

Frank and other board members said they are examining "several options," in response to NBC's announcement.

Does the Nightly News deal violate any exclusivity agreements? "Different affiliates have different answers to that question,'' Frank said. "Some companies say yes, some say perhaps not," depending on the language in their affiliate contracts. NBC believes it is on firm legal footing.

Pax and NBC executives argued the Brokaw rebroadcast would strengthen joint ventures that they are encouraging NBC affiliates to enter into with local Pax stations.

NBC-tv president Randy Falco said the Brokaw repurposing is one more step in putting NBC's "imprimatur" on Pax. "One of the best ways to do that in conjunction with the joint sales agreement we've offered NBC-owned and affiliate stations is to put Nightly News along with a repurposed local news program into the 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. time period."

In effect, Falco said, Pax and NBC are trying to program Pax from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. with an integrated local/network news package, much the way traditional network affiliates are packaged from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. But the network wants the affiliates involved to supply the local component and to use their market leverage to sell the Pax stations. "It's a value-creation equation that we can test out together," Falco said.

NBC will cume the ratings of the Nightly News airings on NBC and Pax and sell them as a package to advertisers, who won't have the option of buying just one or the other. "With news ratings, every tenth of a rating point is sort of cutthroat," Falco noted. "If you can get an extra tenth or two-tenths of a rating point extra, that's really valuable to Nightly News."

But, Sagansky stressed, most of the programming NBC airs will not run on Pax, for a number of reasons: some of the programming simply doesn't fit; NBC won't have the rights to some; or the mother network will simply want to keep some for itself. "We're going to create two different brands," he said.

So far, only the NBC-owned stations have agreed to participate, although Sagansky said he is "close" to a number of joint ventures with affiliates. He expects those ventures to start in late summer. "We want all the NBC affiliates to be selling the Pax station locally," he said.

Cosmos Broadcasting president Jim Keelor described NBC's decision to repurpose Nightly News as "disappointing but not surprising." Cosmos is unlikely to sign up its seven NBC affiliates to joint ventures with Pax stations, he said. "Knowing what I know now, I would not suspect that our NBC stations will be supporting the rebroadcast by putting our own newscast on Pax up against our own syndication programming."

At this point, the Brokaw feed to Pax is being dubbed a test for the May sweeps, although Sagansky said both sides are "highly confident it will continue into the fall."

Nightly News is just the latest program NBC is reusing on Pax. In February, Pax repeated two NBC made-for-TV movies, which generated 1 ratings, the highest-rated movies on Pax to date. For the past three weeks, Pax has also re-aired the NBC game show Twenty-One on Saturdays at 9 p.m. The show has averaged a 1.2 rating in the metered Nielsen markets, a 71% increase in the time period.

"It's a multichannel world now, and NBC has been a leader in extending its brand across multiple platforms," said Bishop Cheen, broadcasting analyst with First Union Securities. "In a fragmented, fiercely competitive media world, it's all about shelf space."

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