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Paxson pushes for JSAs

NBC and Paxson Communications took the wraps off three more joint-sales agreements last week. The move brings to 10 the number of Paxson stations whose local news, programming, sales and marketing shots will be called by NBC.

Last week's agreements were with NBC-owned stations KXAS-TV Dallas; WVIT(TV) Hartford, Conn.; and WNCN(TV) Raleigh, N.C.

Paxson already had such agreements in place with NBC-owned stations in Providence, R.I.; Washington, D.C.; Miami; Knoxville, Tenn.; Greenville, N.C.; Cedar Rapids, Iowa; and Shreveport, La. The network bought 32% of Paxson last September for $415 million in a deal that included an option to increase that to a controlling stake of Paxson, if the FCC loosened its restrictions on TV station ownership.

The 32% deal included an agreement for NBC to cross-promote Pax TV and allow Pax to repurpose some of NBC's big-ticket programming. Pax has aired made-for-television movies originally shown on NBC, and Paxson stations air NBC's prime time game show, Twenty-One, several days after it's shown on NBC.

"The key to Paxson's network paradigm, since its inception in September 1998, has been to team up with other network stations in each market where Paxson has a local station," said Paxson President and CEO Jeff Sagansky.

The joint-sales agreements with NBC "provide Paxson with access to many of NBC's local resources and increase our market presence through improved programming and sales infrastructure.

"The completion of these 10 JSAs bodes well as we move forward market by market to complete additional joint-sales relationships before the year's end, ''he added.

But in a release last week, Paxson apparently overstated its relationship with four major NBC affiliate groups. Paxson said that NBC had "reached an understanding" with Gannett, Hearst-Argyle, Post-Newsweek and A.H. Belo "to develop JSA agreements with Pax stations in their markets. These groups represent JSA opportunities for 16 Paxson stations. and it is expected that agreements will be completed in these markets in the short term." Paxson executives could not be reached for comment at press time.

"We have agreed to talk with them," said Alan Frank, president of Post-Newsweek Stations. "And as of this week, there are no meetings scheduled."

The focus on joint-sales agreements emerged after NBC, which had no part in last week's announcement, retreated from a plan to repurpose Nightly News With Tom Brokaw on Pax. NBC Television President Randy Falco said the repurposing would be delayed until several of its larger affiliate groups had signed off on the local sales agreements with Pax stations in their markets.

The affiliates clearly had not signed off on the Nightly News idea, believing it would draw away viewers and lower ratings.

Officials at Paxson-where many fear the JSAs will accelerate the loss of their jobs-as well as executives at NBC stations believe the partnership is pushing the affiliates to see how far it can go before the affiliates push back-as they did in the case of Brokaw.

For NBC, the 32% partnership allows the network to increase its local station holdings without running afoul of the FCC cap. NBC affiliates say they are willing to consider relationships with the Paxson stations, but they are as yet unsure what they have to gain from such relationships.

Pax has also struck a deal with DirecTV for distribution to the satellite operator's 7.3 million small-dish subscribers. Similar to one that DirecTV cut with the Public Broadcasting Service, the deal obviates DirecTV's having to carry local Pax stations market-by-market. Combined with its cable and over-the-air coverage, Pax claims that the satellite carriage will put its programming before 80% of the nation's TV homes-roughly the same level as UPN and The WB.

-John Eggerton contributed to this story.