INSP: The Inspirational Network plans to spend $10 million
to launch a multiplex of at least six digital networks over the next few years, according
INSP will employ a two-phase strategy, with the first step
being to roll out 'INSP-Digital,' which is slated to launch in the first quarter
and which will be available through Tele-Communications Inc.'s Headend in the Sky
service, according to INSP president and CEO David Cerullo. Cable operators will also be
able to take INSP-Digital directly from the programmer.
In the second phase of INSP's digital expansion, it
will create a 'digiplex' that involves launching at least two additional digital
networks, which will be available by 2000. INSP's digiplex will eventually include at
least six networks, Cerullo said.
INSP is joining a host of programmers -- ranging from
Discovery Communications Inc. to Disney/ABC Networks to MTV Networks -- that are launching
tiers of digital networks.
INSP plans to spend more than $10 million for its
conversion to digital over the next several years, with plans to digitize its transponder
and, eventually, its analog INSP network. Compression equipment from Scientific-Atlanta
Inc. is currently being installed, Cerullo said.
INSP-Digital, which is meant to have a cross-denominational
appeal, will not just be a simulcast of INSP, the analog channel that reaches 11.4 million
homes. To create original programming for its lineup, INSP-Digital is partnering with
religious-radio programmers that have not previously been on national television. Those
radio personalities have built-in, loyal audiences that they can bring to TV, according to
'They already have a following, and we can
cross-promote on both radio and cable,' said Rob Bridges, INSP's vice president
of digital programming.
For example, Larry Burkette, who does a radio show on
Christian finance, will be doing a TV show for INSP-Digital. His radio program attracts 6
million listeners every week.
INSP has its own, 50,000-square-foot production facility in
Charlotte, N.C., where it can produce programs for some of the radio ministers that it
will partner with for the digital network, Cerullo said. INSP may also install cameras in
actual radio stations to tape some of its ministry-program partners, he added.
In addition to the radio partners, INSP-Digital will air
programming from the Americana Television library that it purchased from Liberty Media
Group in August 1996 -- some 600 hours of shows. INSP-Digital is also putting together a
roster of other programming, including kids' shows and fare like the 10-hour Walk
Through the Bible series on marriage.
'We're aggregating a lot of that content,'
INSP-Digital will branch out to create more digital
networks that will involve a variety of formats, Cerullo said. That will probably include
a religious-music digital network that will air gospel and Christian music, and a
'distance-learning' digital network that will feature educational shows and
courses, he added.
INSP maintains that there will be consumer demand for its
digital services. It has done several surveys in markets where digital is being rolled
out, and it found that 78 percent of all cable customers questioned said that having a
religious network on their system was important to them. According to the survey, 63
percent of subscribers said they would be willing to pay for a digital religious service.
The digital networks, like INSP analog, will be supported
by advertising and license fees.
HITS is now carrying a simulcast of analog INSP, but it
will pick up the new INSP-Digital when it launches next year, Cerullo said. It hasn't
been determined yet whether HITS will carry all of INSP's digital channels, he added.