After 18 years of slow and steady growth as a cable network in the religious category, Inspiration Network had acquired about 23 million subscribers.
On Aug. 27, the service’s customer pool more than doubles: Inspiration will add about 31 million customers from DirecTV and Dish Network through simultaneous (but coincidental) launches on those two satellite-TV providers.
Chief operating officer Bill Airy said he didn’t want to sound trite, but the word that came to mind was providential.
“How else can you explain having both of the satellite carriers decide to carry your channel on same day, Aug. 27? As far as I know that is unprecedented, in terms of a legacy network,” Airy, a former Liberty Media executive, said last week.
“We’re not at all shy about saying we believe that God opened some doors for us,” Airy added.
Otherwise, Airy said Inspiration’s investments in technology, including making video-on-demand content for cable operators (and possibly for DirecTV, though that is not immediately planned) and testing server-based interactive applications, are resonating with distributors.
Inspiration also is adding more original shows to the mix of religious ministries whose programming the network gets paid to carry, Airy said. “We’re not at all interested in just being seen as a traditional religious programming entity,” he said.
Network officials point to documentary-style series Speechless … Silencing the Christians, about free-speech controversies, as a show that has helped bring in new business. Inspiration owns production studios in the Charlotte, N.C., area that it would like to put to more use for its own fare.
Airy said Inspiration also talks up its potential to bring in TV viewers that used to get cable or satellite or never subscribed, pegged to the transition to digital broadcasts. “We think a significant number of them are people of faith, and Feb. 17  is on the way,” he said.
Technically, only the DirecTV launch — on channel 364 — was announced last week, although Inspiration said it also has signed a deal to launch Aug. 27 on Dish Network, on channel 259. DirecTV has about 17 million subscribers and Dish has close to 14 million. Inspiration said it will be available to all those subscribers.
Airy said the satellite deals were in the works for more than a year. He said Inspiration Network does not charge a license fee, but distributors do pay a fee for the digital networks also owned by Inspiration Ministries: lifestyle channel i-Lifetv, Hispanic network La Familia Cosmovision and Inspiration Network International