Pax TV's kickoff last Monday averaged a 1.4 rating in
primetime, exceeding the expectations of its creators, who claimed that the numbers proved
that audiences are hungry for family programming that's devoid of sex and violence.
"It's unbelievable," said Lowell Paxson,
chairman of Paxson Communications Corp., parent of Pax TV. "We're absolutely
ecstatic. It was better than we predicted."
The 1.4 rating Aug. 31 was not a national number -- it was
the weighted average rating from 8 p.m. to 11 p.m. in Nielsen Media Research-metered
markets where Paxson owns or operates broadcast-TV stations. Paxson said he expects the
Nielsen Television Index rating, which will probably be available this week, to be close
to that 1.4.
While Paxson was upbeat about Monday's overnight
numbers, others were taking a wait-and-see attitude, especially since Pax TV hasn't
yet faced the competition of the new fall shows on broadcast TV.
"My caveat is that you don't look at one night
and make a judgment," said Janeen Bjork, senior vice president and director of
programming at Seltel Inc., which represents broadcast stations. "But it was a good
Pax TV's primetime lineup consists of reruns of such
"family" programs as Touched by an Angel and Diagnosis: Murder.
Its daytime lineup includes original series that were poorly received by critics last
Before launch, Paxson was projecting that Pax TV -- which
is marketing itself as a haven for safe and spiritually oriented programming for families
-- would hit breakeven if it averaged a 0.6 in primetime, according to Paxson. Pax TV
expected to get to a 1.0 in primetime during the first season, and "now, we have a
1.4 out of the box, and there's a tremendous amount of distribution still to
come," Paxson said.
On its launch date, Pax TV tallied its highest primetime
ratings in both Greensboro, N.C., and New Orleans, where it did a 3.3. It cratered in Los
Angeles, with a 0.7. Pax TV did a 1.5 rating in New York and a 2.6 in Chicago.
Paxson maintained that after Pax TV's debut, he got
phone calls from cable operators that plan to speed up their plans to carry the fledgling
seventh broadcast network in markets where Paxson doesn't have TV stations.
Paxson said he also got inquiries from MSOs that now want
to get together with him to discuss launching the network in DMAs where it doesn't
Prior to launch, Pax TV closed carriage deals with MSOs in
order to fill in its distribution. A number of cable operators have struck affiliation
deals with Pax TV -- which, published reports have said, is paying launch fees for analog
carriage -- including Tele-Communications Inc., Time Warner Cable, Comcast Corp.,
InterMedia Partners, TCA Cable TV Inc. and Charter Communications Inc.
For its debut, Pax TV was available to 7.1 million cable
homes in markets where Paxson doesn't own TV stations, Paxson said. By the end of the
year, it will be available in an additional 7 million cable homes, he predicted.
TCA, for example, launched Pax TV last week in systems
representing 500,000 of its 850,000 subscribers, said Randy Rogers, the MSO's
executive vice president. But TCA won't start actively marketing the new network with
cross-channel promos until this week, he added.
The network will also be carried on 17 additional TV
stations. Pax TV's U.S. TV-household penetration is currently 73 percent.
Paxson said he expected Pax TV's primetime audience to
build, and not drop off, in the weeks following its launch. That's because Pax
TV's $25 million marketing blitz will actually intensify leading into November, a
Pax TV may have made a nice showing in last Monday's
ratings, but it wasn't every TV critic's cup of tea. In a particularly biting
review last week, New York Daily News critic David Bianculli wrote, "Not since
the days of such SCTV spoofs as The Sammy Maudlin Show and Farm Film
Report have I seen a so-called network present shows so low-budget, lowbrow and
The News gave Pax TV's three original daytime
shows a total of one-and-one-half stars. Other critics were similarly unimpressed. USA
Today termed the network "freedom from excitement."
Many critics who called the original shows bland did have
praise for Pax TV's lineup of acquired shows. The St. Petersburg (Fla.)
Times wrote, "So forget about seeing original shows worth watching, at least in
the short term, on Pax TV. Instead, rejoice that there's a new home for Dick Van
Patten, Gavin MacLeod, Michael Landon and Dick Van Dyke."