Ion bound for upfront with RHI programs

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NEW YORK -- Ion Media Networks has reached an agreement with RHI Inc. that will exclusively provide Ion's weekend primetime programming and clear the way for the former Pax Network to go to Madison Avenue with its first upfront in three years.

The two-year deal announced Wednesday begins in July 2007, with RHI planning and programming Ion's 7-11 p.m. block on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. RHI will premiere at least six new productions per year on Ion as well as an as-yet-unspecified mix of made-for-TV movies, miniseries and specials.

RHI, which was founded by Robert Halmi Sr. and Robert Halmi Jr., will work with Ion in scheduling, promotions and ad-sales strategy in what Ion CEO R. Brandon Burgess said was essentially a revenue share. Terms of the agreement weren't announced.

Burgess said Wednesday that the deal with RHI boosts Ion's stable and its case with advertisers.

"They have 5,000-6,000 hours of programming of an age and a quality that we could probably never afford on our own being the little network that we are," Burgess said.

It is the latest in a series of programming announcements for the former Pax network, which last year got a name change and a new CEO in Burgess. In July, Ion signed a deal with Sony Pictures Television for classic TV series and movies. In June, it picked up movies and TV series from Warner Bros. Domestic Cable Distribution. It also has launched Qubo, a children's network, with NBC Universal, Scholastic and others, and plans a digital heath network.

Classic TV series and movies will remain on Monday-Thursday, a strategy Burgess said is working. He said that the network will be going to Madison Avenue with an upfront-like presentation for the first time since 2004, when NBC partnered with what was then Pax when the programming was retooled. But Pax fell apart after that, with the West Palm Beach, Fla., network laying off key staff and all of its original productions. The network has been in rebuilding mode ever since.

Burgess said there are no specific plans yet for the upfront.

"It's going to be something closer to smaller meetings than renting out Radio City Music Hall," he said.
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