Southern Baptists Want a Superstation

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The Southern Baptist Convention, estimating that it will
take $750 million to launch, is pursuing plans to create a superstation, officials said
last week.

The denomination, which has 15.7 million members, unveiled
its decision to try to create and roll out a superstation -- a broadcast outlet with a
satellite-distributed signal offered to cable systems across the country -- at its annual
meeting earlier this month in Atlanta.

"There's a feeling that we need to do something
as a denomination," said the Rev. Paige Patterson, who is president of both the
convention and the Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.

"We've looked into doing a network like TBN
[Trinity Broadcasting Network], and that's not completely out of the picture,"
Patterson added, "but it seems more feasible to do a superstation. It's a less
expensive place to start."

Randy Singer, an attorney and executive vice president at
the North American Mission Board, an agency of the Baptist convention, is one of the point
men pursuing the creation of the superstation.

Singer said he hopes to have a business plan for the
superstation in place by next year, contingent on financing for its launch.

The Baptists currently have a 24-hour broadcast-programming
service, FamilyNet, which carries family-values programming along with evangelical
preaching, Singer said.

FamilyNet reaches about 31 million homes, mainly through
broadcast, with partial and full-time carriage on 24 full-power TV stations, 81 low-power
TV stations and 14 cable systems. Its cable distribution is only about 1.2 million homes.

The Baptists want to go beyond that that hybrid
broadcast-cable system.

Since analog space on cable systems is "maxed
out" and "digital tiers are just starting to hit," Singer said, the
Baptists are looking to start a superstation, and they are talking with broadcast stations
about it.

If the Baptists struck a deal with a TV station that airs
some local programming, for example, Singer said, that broadcast outlet could seek
must-carry and gain cable carriage in that DMA, at least. This would form the base for a
superstation that could later go national.

"We could use that as a beachhead to get on
direct-broadcast satellite and to get cable carriage in other cities," he added.

The NAMB already produces several TV shows featuring
Baptist preachers, such as the Rev. Charles Stanley's In Touch, which
currently air on Odyssey Channel. The mission had a noncompete clause with Odyssey that
expired Jan. 1, Singer said.

"So we are freed up to pursue our own course
now," he added, "and we'd produce additional programming for the
superstation."

Odyssey declined to comment last week.

The Baptists want a TV platform that can deliver their
message unfiltered by anyone. "We're a little bit wary of certain censorship
that we run into in various places," Patterson said.

Patterson's job is raising the $750 million to start
up the superstation, which he believes is doable.

He noted that this year, Baptist congregations contributed
$350 million to the national convention, so he would need to raise more than twice that
amount next year. "We can do it," he said.

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