You might say this TV company is looking to charge up its audience. ION Media Networks is a leading television broadcaster anchored by its ION Television network and its portfolio of about 60 UHF stations located throughout the country. The broadcast network, which reaches more than 99 million US homes, airs mostly syndicated series (Criminal Minds, My Name is Earl, Without a Trace, and Ghost Whisperer), movies, and specials. It also offers several hours of paid programming each day. ION Television is distributed by cable and satellite systems in addition to the company's owned and operated TV outlets. ION Media was founded as Paxson Communications in 1991 and is controlled by a group of private equity firms.
While the company is known primarily for its ION network, ION Media blurs the line between programmer and local station operator due to its large portfolio of owned and operated broadcast stations. (Rival networks such as ABC and FOX own fewer than 20 local stations.) Both arms of the business rely mostly on advertising to generate revenue, but ION Media's stations depend heavily on local advertisers for their income.
The company's efforts to expand its audience numbers took a turn for the better late in 2009 when ION Media emerged from bankruptcy with $150 million in new financing. Previously controlled by Citadel Investment Group, the broadcaster was rescued with new investment from private equity firms including Avenue Capital, Black Diamond Capital, and Trilogy Capital. ION Media was forced to restructure that year citing its heavy debt load and declining revenue brought on by the recession.
ION Media is continuing to redefine its place within the expanding universe of cable and broadcast TV choices with the help of the new financial backing. Once a home for such syndicated classics as Bonanza and Diagnosis Murder, ION has been acquiring more popular programming such as off-network shows George Lopez, Criminal Minds, Without a Trace, and Ghost Whisperer. The network has also expanded its lineup of movies through distribution deals with such studios as Paramount Pictures and Warner Bros.
Reaching beyond its core broadcast network, ION Media has been investing in two new channels: Qubo and ION Life. Qubo, operated in partnership with Scholastic Corp. and Corus Entertainment, targets children with a hefty dose of animated programming including Jane and the Dragon and The Magic School Bus. ION Life, meanwhile, focuses on health issues, home improvement, and travel. Both cable channels offer the prospect of generating revenue from carriage fees paid by cable system operators as well as advertising.
ION Media was founded by Lowell "Bud" Paxson. The born-again Christian had started the company to promote his family-friendly PAX TV network. Then known as Paxson Communications, it was partly-owned by NBC until 2007, when NBCUniversal transferred its rights to a 35% stake to hedge fund manager Citadel as part of a $70 million going-private transaction. – less