The rebuilding, undersized broadcast network, which is comprised of small UHF and low-power TV stations, will let RHI exclusively plan and program three four-hour time blocks on Friday, Saturday and Sunday night. RHI and Ion will jointly determine ad sales strategy.
This is a revenue-sharing arrangement, in which RHI will probably control and sell the ad inventory, says Brandon Burgess, CEO of Ion Media Networks.
The deal gives the i network, which covers 92 million over-the-air TV homes, access to RHI's library of some 1,200 titles--many made-for-TV movies. RHI Entertainment recently bought back most of its titles from Hallmark. RHI makes some 40 to 60 TV movies and miniseries a year.
"It's sort of a synergist play," says Burgess. "We have 90 million TV homes and they have 5,000 to 6,000 hours of programming. We need programming, and they need distribution. The weekend is a tough time period to sell."
Some months ago, Ion also made the decision to eliminate the selling of local TV ad inventory. In addition, the i network had been only running infomercials before its move back to mainstream programming.
"This gets us back in the general advertising game," says Burgess.
Ion's Monday through Thursday prime-time program plan is to run mostly traditional and older syndication fare. In June, it struck a wide-ranging deal with Warner Bros. Domestic Cable Distribution for shows such as "Welcome Back, Kotter," "Chico and the Man," "Scarecrow & Mrs. King," and "Growing Pains." In addition, the deal called for movies, including "Amadeus" and "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest," "All the President's Men," and others.
Ion also says it plans to use more of its local-station digital multicasting capacity to grow its business. This already includes plans for over-the-air networks, such as qubo, a children's network in partnership with Scholastic; Corus Entertainment; Classic Media/Big Idea; NBC Universal; and iHealth, a channel about consumer healthcare and healthy living.
Ion Media Network's was the former Paxson Communications. Ion is controlled by NBC Universal Television Group, which has a minority interest in Ion Media.