Religious Nets Inspired By Digital


Religious-television programmers, who stood at cable operators' altars offering 24-hour networks a quarter-century ago, are now looking for digital positioning for their Spanish-language services.

Eternal Word Television Network, which debuted in 1981, set this cycle in motion four years ago by introducing EWTN en Español. The Inspirational Network and Trinity Broadcasting Network, whose full-time religious cable networks launched in the late 1970s, entered last year via the marketing of La Familia Network and Enlace, respectively.

Trinity and EWTN's services are similar to their primary channels in content—church services, Bible study series, magazine-format or interview shows with religious themes and evangelism.

La Familia, which is produced independently of INSP, carries general-entertainment/information shows and movies targeting a family audience. La Familia's schedule includes music, soap operas, educational series and sports. INSP serves as the network's marketing agent.

EWTN's Latino channel is available to 4 million digital-cable homes through nearly 100 systems. Ten cable systems distribute La Familia to over 100,000 digital-cable homes. Time Warner Cable's New York City system recently began carrying EWTN en Español and La Familia, introducing them in late January as part of its DTV en Español tier.

Enlace is not on that package yet; TBN officials declined to comment for this story.

U.S. Census data, showing Hispanics as the nation's largest minority group, should open more distribution doors, according to network executives.

Walter Cordova, EWTN's national Spanish-market manager, also cited the wave of new Latino immigrants as a further stimulator to activity in the religious-TV community. "These immigrants want to get something of faith as part of living in their home away from home," he said.

"There has to be a reaction to population growth," said Wendy Vinson, INSP's affiliate relations and marketing vice president. "Any network of any kind not working to provide something for the Latino community is missing out on a huge opportunity."

With at least three religious TV suppliers approaching operators with 'round-the-clock Latino services, differentiation could be a stumbling block with operators. Both Cordova and Vinson said that hasn't been a big problem so far.

La Familia is, by nature in Spanish, "what The Family Channel started out with years ago," Vinson—a former employee there—said. La Familia has another feather in its cap—room for advertising sales and promotion. The network carves out seven minutes per hour for national sponsorship and will, as of this summer, parcel affiliates two minutes of local avails an hour.

EWTN, for its part, touts experience and trust. "For this genre, we are a brand name," Cordova said. "People know what we do and they expect us to do well on the Latino side."

EWTN and INSP both give operators ample promotional support where Latino channels are available, through Spanish and bilingual direct-mail pieces, flyers, newspaper slicks and radio/TV messages. EWTN distributes brochures among various parishes and helps place schedule information in diocesan newspapers or neighborhood newsletters.

INSP's work for La Familia includes participation in Latino festivals and tie-in activities with chapters of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.