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ION Television is an American free-to-air television network/syndication service that is owned by Ion Media. The network first began broadcasting on August 31, 1998 as Pax TV (commonly referred to as “Pax”; stylized as PAX), focusing primarily on family-oriented entertainment programming; it rebranded as i: Independent Television (commonly referred to as “i”; stylized as i) on July 1, 2005, converting into a general entertainment network featuring mainly recent and older acquired programs; the network adopted its current identity as Ion Television on January 29, 2007.
The network was founded by Lowell “Bud” Paxson, co-founder of the Home Shopping Network and chairman of parent company Paxson Communications (the forerunner to the current Ion Media Networks). Ion Television is available throughout most of the United States through its group of 62 owned-and-operated stations, as well as through distribution on cable and satellite providers; since 2014, the network has also increased affiliate distribution in several markets through the digital subchannels of local television stations owned by companies such as NBCUniversal and Nexstar Media Group where the network is unable to maintain a main channel affiliation with or own a standalone station, for the same purpose as the distribution of Ion’s main network feed via cable and satellite.
The network’s stations cover all of the top 20 U.S. markets and 37 of the top 50 markets. Ion’s owned-and-operated stations cover 64.8% of the United States population, by far the most of any U.S. station ownership group; it is able to circumvent the legal limit of covering 39% of the population because all of its stations operate on the UHF television band, which is subject to a discount (which in the digital age has proven controversial with other broadcast groups and FCC rulings between presidential administrations, though not with Ion itself) in regard to that limit.
The network was founded by Lowell “Bud” Paxson, co-founder of the Home Shopping Network and chairman of parent company Paxson Communications (the forerunner to the current Ion Media Networks). It was originally to be called Pax Net, but was renamed Pax TV (often referred to as simply “Pax”; stylized as “PAX”) – a dual reference to its founder and corporate parent, and the Latin word for “peace” shortly before its launch.
Paxson, who felt that television programs aired by other broadcast networks were too raunchy and not family-friendly enough, had decided to create a network that he perceived as an alternative. Since the new network would focus on programming tailored to family audiences, PAX maintained a considerably more conservative programming content policy than the major commercial television networks, restricting profanity, violence and sexual content; accordingly, many of the network’s acquired programs were edited to remove sexual and overt violent content, while profane language was muted.
Most of the network’s initial affiliates were Paxson Communications-owned affiliate stations of the Infomall TV Network (inTV), a network launched by Paxson in 1995 that relied mainly on infomercials and other brokered programming. During the late spring and summer of 1998, a half-hour preview special hosted by former Waltons star Richard Thomas, featuring interviews with Lowell Paxson about PAX’s development and initial programming, aired on inTV stations slated to become charter outlets of the new network. PAX launched on August 31, 1998, with the network’s initial schedule being much larger in scope than it would be in later years.
At launch: PAX aired general entertainment programming on weekdays from 11:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. and weekends from 3:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. Central Time. Through an agreement with then-Disney owned animation studio DIC Productions L.P., its schedule also included a children’s program block called “Cloud Nine” on Saturdays from 5:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m. and Sundays from 6:00 a.m. to 8:00 a.m. Central.
In addition, the network aired religious programming through time-lease agreements with The Worship Network (which aired its overnight programming on PAX seven nights a week) and Praise TV (featuring Contemporary Christian music and other faith-based programs aimed at teenagers and young adults, which aired on Friday and Saturday late-nights from 11:00 p.m. to 2:00 a.m. Central until 2000).
The remainder of the schedule was filled by paid programming. Initial programming on PAX consisted of first-run shows (such as the true story profile series It’s a Miracle, game show The Reel to Reel Picture Show, and talk shows Woman’s Day and Great Day America), along with reruns of older programming (including Highway to Heaven, Here’s Lucy, The Hogan Family, Dave’s World, Touched by an Angel, and new episodes and older reruns of Candid Camera, the latter of which moved to the network following the revival series’ cancellation by CBS earlier in 1998).
The network also produced some original drama series such as Sue Thomas: F.B.Eye, Doc, Mysterious Ways (which originated on NBC), Hope Island and Twice in a Lifetime through its programming division, Paxson Productions.
PAX also aired many game shows including first-run revivals of established games that originated on cable networks such as Supermarket Sweep and Shop ’til You Drop, along with some original game shows such as On the Cover, Balderdash, a 2002 revival of Beat the Clock, Hollywood Showdown (in conjunction with Game Show Network, which also aired the show) and reruns of Born Lucky.
The network would later carry reruns of the syndicated revival of Family Feud (consisting of episodes from Louie Anderson, Richard Karn and John O’Hurley’s tenures as host, airing on a one-year delay from their original syndication broadcast) and, due to its alliance with NBC, The Weakest Link (both from the Anne Robinson-hosted network run and the George Gray-hosted syndicated version) as well as the 2000 revival of Twenty-One.
In September 1999, NBC purchased a 32% share of Paxson Communications for $415 million in convertible stock, with an option to expand its interest to 49% by February 2002, pending changes in ownership regulations set by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) that would allow it to acquire additional television stations. NBC later sold its share in the network back to Paxson in November 2003.
The network has previously broadcast certain sporting events, including Conference USA college football games (produced by College Sports Television), soccer matches from the Women’s United Soccer Association, Real Pro Wrestling (which more resembles the amateur form than the theatrically-based ring sport), the Champions Tour of golf, the Paralympic Games and a weekly mixed martial arts program from BodogFight.
In its home state of Florida, the network’s stations had served as a statewide chain to carry play-by-play coverage of a number of games for Major League Baseball’s Tampa Bay Rays and Florida Marlins (demarcated by each team’s territories) until the late 2000s, when cable’s Fox Sports Florida/Sun acquired the exclusive rights to both teams.
Ion Television aired NFL Films’ weekly highlight program, the NFL Films Game of the Week on Saturday evenings from September 16, 2007, to January 5, 2008, with its initial broadcast focusing on the September 9, 2007 game between the New York Giants and the Dallas Cowboys.
The series was not renewed for the fall 2008 season. Ion also obtained rights to televise games from the American Indoor Football Association, which were slated to begin airing in March 2008. However, the game’s producers did not provide a live broadcast and the agreement was terminated.
On December 28, 2010, Ion Television signed a deal with the Ultimate Fighting Championship to air the preliminary fights to the January 1 pay-per-view event UFC 125. Ion also aired the preliminary fights for UFC 127 and UFC 140 later in 2011, before the organization signed an exclusive programming agreement with Fox.
In October 2015, Ion Television has 52 owned-and-operated stations, and current and pending affiliation agreements with nine additional television stations encompassing 36 states and the District of Columbia. The network has an estimated national reach of 60.63% of all households in the United States (or 189,453,097 Americans with at least one television set).
Ion Television has the most owned-and-operated stations of any commercial broadcast network in the United States, reaching 65.1% of the United States (well above the Federal Communications Commission’s coverage-based national ownership limit of 39%); it is also the only American commercial broadcast network whose stations almost exclusively consist of network-owned stations, similar to the ownership model of many commercial broadcast networks in Europe, Canada, Latin America, Asia and Australia, and to a somewhat more expansive extent, many U.S.-based religious broadcast networks.
Ion Television’s programming is available by default via a national feed that is distributed directly to cable and satellite providers in markets without a local Ion station (this contrasts with the major networks, which under FCC regulations, allow providers to import an owned-and-operated or affiliate station from a nearby market if no local over-the-air affiliate exists). In some markets, DirecTV carries a “placeholder” simulcast of the national modified feed of the network (for example, Los Angeles area viewers can watch Ion on both channels 30, via local O&O KPXN-TV, and 305; New York City on channel 31 WPXN besides 305).
- ION Network slogans
- Pax TV: A Friend of the Family (1998–2000)
- Pax TV: Share It With Someone You Love (1998–2000)
- Pax TV: Share The Wonder (2000–2002)
- Pax TV: Feel Good TV (2002–2003)
- Pax TV: Feel The Spirit (2003–2004)
- Pax TV: Oh What a Night! (2004–2005)
- i: Independent Television (2005–2007)
- What’s Your Ion? (2007–2008)
- Ion: Your Home for Popular TV Favorites (2007–2008)
- Ion Television: Positively Entertaining (2008–present)
- Get Wrapped Up in the Holidays (2012–2014; used for holiday-themed programming)
- Share the Joy (2015–present; used for holiday-themed programming)
Ion Television Programming
Ion Television operates on a 128-hour network programming schedule as of April 2020. It provides general entertainment programming to owned-and-operated and affiliated stations Saturdays through Thursdays from 8:00 a.m. to 2:00 a.m. and Fridays from 6:00 a.m. to 2:00 a.m. Central Time (the entertainment programming schedule starts four hours later and ends two hours earlier from Christmas to New Year’s Day, with paid programming filling the remaining vacated hours).
A children’s programming block known as the Qubo Kids’ Corner which features programs compliant with FCC educational programming requirements – airs for two hours each Friday at 6:00 a.m. Central Time. All other time periods are filled with religious programming or infomercials.
Ion owned-and-operated stations and affiliates also provide limited local programming on weekday mornings to fulfill public affairs guidelines, which range from entirely local productions to Ion Life-sourced programs within which commercial slots are instead devoted to local physicians or experts giving locality-specific health advice or advertising their services.
Ion also served as the over-the air broadcast distribution point for TiVo’s Teleworld Paid Program, a weekly 30-minute compilation program usually carried during the overnight on Wednesdays or Thursdays within the network’s designated paid programming time it was specifically coded to distribute program previews and device tutorials for TiVo’s digital video recorders.
TiVo discontinued the program in 2016 as broadband had become commonplace enough to end it. Most programs broadcast by Ion Television are distributed by either 20th Century Fox Television or CBS Television Distribution. Ion Television also maintains film distribution deals with Paramount Pictures, 20th Century Fox and Warner Bros.
Pictures Series currently broadcast by Ion Television (as of October 2015) are mostly dramas such as Criminal Minds, Law & Order, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, Law & Order: Criminal Intent, Numb3rs, Blue Bloods, and The Listener. In 2014, the network’s format is predominantly devoted to marathon blocks of hour-long drama series, with consecutive episodes of a given series airing between two and 16 hours a day (depending on the day’s schedule, with fewer hours in the morning and late fringe).
The network broadcasts feature films released between the 1980s and the 2000s under the banner “Ion Television at the Movies”, which fill the majority of the network’s Sunday afternoon and evening schedule (holiday-themed made-for-TV films are also broadcast under the banner throughout the entertainment programming day on weekends between Thanksgiving and Christmas, as well as on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day regardless of where either holiday falls during the calendar week).
Ion Television occasionally airs short hosted segments during its prime time lineup – particularly during film presentations known as the “Ion Lounge”, a lifestyle segment used mainly to advertise a company’s product within the featured program’s commercial breaks.
In the recent past, Ion Television has aired a limited number of comedy or comedy-drama series that were cycled on-and-off the schedule such as Monk, Psych and Married… with Children, with half-hour sitcoms used on certain occasions to fill scheduling gaps prior to the telecast of its late-morning film presentations (usually in the 10:00 a.m.
Central Time half-hour, if the succeeding film ran for at least 21⁄2 hours) because of their erratic scheduling; the network shifted to a more exclusive focus on dramas as part of its series content in January 2015, although the network continues to carry comedic programming in the form of select feature films aired within the “Ion Television at the Movies” block.
Ion’s current method of running predominately syndicated programming is very similar to the international model of broadcasting used in Europe, Canada, Latin America, Asia and Australia, which mixes imported and syndicated shows with a model used only in United States broadcast television by digital multicast services (particularly those that specialize in acquired programs such as MeTV), smaller English language entertainment-based networks (such as America One) and networks broadcasting in languages other than English (such as Univision and Telemundo).
The major commercial broadcast networks in the U.S. ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox, and The CW carry first-run programs produced for the network, while leaving the responsibility of acquiring shows from the syndication market to their owned-and-operated stations and affiliates to fill time not allotted to network and, where applicable, locally produced programs (MyNetworkTV, which is somewhat similar to Ion Television in its format, mixes elements of both models as acquired programs are supplied both during prime time by the service and by its stations at all other times).
A limited number of non-Ion-owned stations that are merely affiliated with the network (such as Louisville outlet WBNA) do carry additional local or syndicated programming that, in some instances, pre-empts certain programs within the Ion master schedule.
Ion Television Detroit
Ion Television Detroit is an Ion Television owned-and-operated station serving Detroit, Michigan, United States that is licensed to Ann Arbor. The station is owned by West Palm Beach, Florida-based Ion Media Networks (the former Paxson Communications). WPXD-TV’s studios and transmitter are located on West 11 Mile Road in Southfield.
On cable, the station is available in standard definition on Comcast Xfinity channel 16 in the city of Detroit, channel 11 in western Wayne County, Ann Arbor, Southfield, Birmingham and Roseville, channel 12 in south Oakland County, channel 18 in north Oakland County, south Macomb County and the Grosse Pointe area, channel 9 in the Downriver area, channel 13 on Charter Spectrum, and channel 19 in outlying areas, and in high definition on Xfinity channel 237. AT&T U-verse carries WPXD on channel 31 in SD and channel 1031 in HD.
Ion Television Movies
- A Wedding for Christmas
- Country Christmas Album
- 12 Pups of Christmas
- A Prince for Christmas
- A Christmas Kiss
- Merry Kissmas
- Defending Santa
- All I Want for Christmas Film
- A Christmas Mystery
- Meet My Valentine
- Christmas With the Andersons
- Correcting Christmas 2014
- A Perfect Christmas List
- Merry Ex-Mas
- The Christmas Apprentice
- Another Christmas Kiss
- Anything But Christmas
- A Christmas Truce
- A Husband for Christmas
- the spruces and the pines
- A Christmas in Royal Fashion
- A Christmas Cruise