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ION to Launch in HD

ION will launch an HD feed of its main channel starting Feb. 16, a day before the ostensibly delayed DTV transition deadline. The HD version will initially roll out in 20 of ION’s 55 markets, including New York, Chicago, Detroit, Miami and Los Angeles, with remaining markets to be added throughout the year. The first phase of the roll-out will reach 46 million households, ION executives said.

ION’s diginets--kidnet Qubo and healthy lifestyle net ION Life--will also be launched in HD later this year.

ION TV also said this week its prime-time ratings grew last year by 67 percent. Since the network rebranded in the fall, its overall prime-time rating went from a 0.3 to a 0.5, which is still pretty skimpy, but moving in the right direction. ION aggressively invested in the network last year, acquiring new programming and supporting the mobile broadcast initiative.

The group’s 60 TV stations previously belonged to Paxson, which ran a heavy rotation of infomercials and paid programming. ION execs are trying to recast the net as an entertainment brand. Off-net shows acquired over the last year include “Boston Legal,” “NCIS” and “ER.” Two more, “Ghost Whisperer” and “Criminal Minds” will be added this year.

ION shares, (OTC: IION) doubled Jan. 9 from $1.50 to $3. The West Palm Beach, Fla. company has market capitalization of more than $205 million. ION reported operating income of $14.4 million on revenues of $56.5 million for the quarter ending Sept. 20.