INSP, at one time the religion-themed The Inspiration Network, is looking to build up its new family-targeted general-entertainment targeted brand by developing new unscripted series and original movies. The independently owned, 83 million- subscriber network will look to compete with the likes of Hallmark Channel and UP with the Oct. 21 launch of “Destination Fridays,” an original programming block anchored by the premiere of State Plate, a reality series starring Taylor Hicks, the winner of season five of American Idol.
INSP chief operating officer Dale Ardizzone recently spoke to Multichannel News programming editor R. Thomas Umstead about the network’s effort to define its brand through its foray into original programming. Here’s an edited excerpt of their conversation.
MCN: From your perspective, how important is it for INSP to develop original content?
Dale Ardizzone: We knew we wanted to get into original series that celebrate the American spirit and that are consistent with our overall strategy of wholesome entertainment. We were not looking to be a network that simply puts on traditional shows that don’t really move people; our whole mantra here is dynamic, exciting programs that are suitable for the whole family. Our Destination Fridays lineup will be destination viewing for those who enjoy interesting stories about people, places and passions. It will feature the series premiere of State Plate, our latest original, starring American Idol winner Taylor Hicks, as well as the season premiere of Handcrafted America, featuring magnetic host Jill Wagner. The block will also include Cash Cowboys, a series from the producers of American Pickers.
INSP is fortunate to have an incredibly loyal audience, and we have no doubt they will enthusiastically embrace our Destination Fridays lineup.
MCN: Is your family-focused programming looking to fill a void in the marketplace?
DA: That has been one of our goals. Certainly over the last 20 years — maybe going back even further — content has become edgier, and you know clearly there are viewers that enjoy that kind of content. For us, we believe that there is a market for this content and I can’t tell you how many responses we have received in terms of people saying thank you. It is so refreshing to be able to have a place to go where it is lunge-free for the remote — it’s in demand.
MCN: Will such content also help further define the brand beyond the network’s original, religious-themed roots?
DA: Absolutely. INSP LLC is the name of our network now; it’s not short for Inspiration Network. While we certainly think our programming is motivational and inspirational, we really are a general-entertainment network, and that is the focus of our content throughout the day. We do want to hone and refine how we’re perceived, but often change, in terms of perception, is like turning a barge, not a rowboat. It takes some time, but we think every one of these originals that we’re putting out supports that and reinforces it.
MCN: Along with original movies, does the network plan to air any scripted dramas?
DA: We’ve looked at a number of projects in terms of scripted drama and have come very close on several, but frankly we didn’t think they would have been the right fit for us long-term. I would imagine by 2018 or sooner we would either be in production or be debuting a scripted series. As for movies, they give us an opportunity to tell a good story celebrating the American spirit in a two-hour format. We’re real excited about our [Oct. 16] movie Heritage Falls, starring David Keith from An Officer and a Gentleman.
MCN: Will you use your original content to build a bigger presence on digital platforms?
DA: Absolutely. That is something we’re very committed to. We’re offering digital footage and clips to highlight our original programming, but we’re respectful of our cable and satellite and telco partners’ desires to be able to offer new and fresh content to their customers that isn’t easily accessible any place else on the first run. We’re ones that tend to focus on linear debuts and premieres first, but obviously we will work with them and others to put our content out in the digital space. We’ll be doing that in a calculated way that we think maximizes the experience but also recognizes the benefits of linear viewing.