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528,465 area cable viewers to get Pax TV -- 'seventh network'

Thursday, November 29, 2001

By Barbara Vancheri, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

More than three years after its launch, Pax TV is gaining a foothold in Pittsburgh.

Pax is being added to the lineup for 528,465 of AT&T Broadband's cable customers in Pittsburgh and the suburbs. In the city, they also will be gaining Oxygen, a newer channel aimed at younger women. The change will take place on or around Jan. 1.

Pax, which calls itself the nation's seventh broadcast TV network, promises shows that "embody strong values and showcase positive role models." Unveiled in August 1998, it offers a blend of new programs such as "The Ponderosa" and reruns of hits like "Touched by an Angel." It is owned and operated by Paxson Communications Corp., based in West Palm Beach, Fla.

In the city, AT&T customers will find Pax on channel 64 and Oxygen on channel 59.

In the non-rebuilt part of Pittsburgh, Pax will be on 85A and 38B, while Oxygen will be on 96 on both lines. Everywhere else, Pax will be on channel 56.

Dan Garfinkel, AT&T Broadband spokesman, said the company did some "channel realignments," including dropping analog DMX, a little-requested music channel.

Talk about adding Pax to AT&T's lineup is not new. "The issue was, you have to have some place to put it. We had to do some realigning and come to a deal everyone felt was equitable," Garfinkel said. "One of our goals is to keep costs to our customers down. There were some tough negotiations, but they got to something everyone felt was fair."

This week, AT&T Broadband confirmed that customers can expect price increases of about 4.2 percent in their monthly cable bill next year. The rate increases range from $2.30 for the standard cable package to $8.54 for some digital packages.

The bump is being attributed to rising programming and energy costs.

Pax has been mentioned as a possible source of programming for Diane Sutter, president of Shooting Star Broadcasting, who wants to buy Channel 16 for $20 million. That would require a change in the license, a matter now before the Federal Communications Commission. Sutter was unavailable for comment yesterday.

Garfinkel couldn't speculate on Sutter's plans but said, "We would look kindly on original programming on WQEX. We do get complaints from viewers about duplicated programming" on channels 13 and 16.

AT&T will be picking up the Pax network feed. Some cities have Pax affiliates, which offer a blend of local and national shows. Until now, Pax has been available locally only by DirecTV and Dish Network.

Yesterday's news means that Pax is securing a beachhead in the market, but agreements with other big cable companies -- or a station available to viewers without cable -- would broaden its potential audience.

In July, Pax TV President Jeff Sagansky told the Post-Gazette that getting Pax on cable was problematic because of financial concerns and a lack of space on low-numbered channels. He said he had spoken with Sutter, adding, "Any way we can get into the market, we're considering it."

The introduction of Pax in Pittsburgh means the network will be in all top 50 TV markets. Pax TV reaches 84 percent of U.S. households through broadcast television, cable and satellite systems.

In September 1999 Pax entered into a deal with NBC. They have shared programming including the quiz show "The Weakest Link."

"AT&T Broadband is the dominant MSO [multiple-system operator] in Pittsburgh, and with this agreement we reach a significant milestone for Pax's distribution," Steve Friedman, Paxson's president of cable distribution, said in a written statement.

"We are proud to deliver the highest quality family-friendly programming to the viewers in this important market."

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