A small-circulation cable channel called INSP, the Inspirational Network, hoping to capitalize on a national mood tapped by Congressional Republican evangelists for the gospel of family values, is seeking a cash infusion of $30 million to broaden its programming base.
“We’ve launched a full-court press” to get more cable systems to pick up the channel, says John Roos, VP of marketing for INSP, which has also hired financial firm KPMG Peat Marwick as adviser to harvest the $30 million within the next six months. INSP, based in Charlotte, N.C., is a non-profit corporation governed by an elected board of directors. Its goal is to go public sometime in the next two years.
INSP is now in about nine million cable homes through more than 750 cable systems. Although INSP’s circulation is too small to be a part of Nielsen’s cable-network data base, Roos says that a specially commissioned telephone survey by Nielsen showed a surprisingly high 1.5 rating for a four-and-a-half-hour New Year’s Eve concert of inspirational performers hosted by Grant Goodeve (“Eight Is Enough”).
The network makes no bones about wanting to appeal to “people steeped in Judeo-Christian family values,” as Mitch Martin, chief financial officer of INSP, puts it.
But as it follows through on its goal “to buy and produce broader-based programming to increase its viewership,” says Mike Egan, programming VP for Cablevision Industries, a top 10 multisystem operator, the net “could end up losing the support of the conservative Christians that watch it now. The channel would have to build a new audience base – and that’s a tall order considering all of the cable networks out there competing for the viewers’ attention.”
A key test for INSP will be whether cable systems include it as one of the six networks they are likely to add in the next year to an expanded basic cable lineup that includes the widely circulated nets (CNN, ESPN, USA, etc.). The Federal Communications Commission, through its “going-forward” rules promulgated late year, makes it worth a cable system’s while to add six networks to expanded basic because the Commission says operators can add up to $1.50 a month – 20¢ a new station plus associated fees – to the subscriber’s bill.
Martin is convinced that INSP has an advantage under these new FCC regulations because the channel is a freebie to cable systems, compared to, say, the highest-priced of the new networks, FX, whose rate card demands a monthly fee of 25¢ a subscriber. (The average limited-circulation network charges cable systems somewhere between 5¢ and 10¢ a month per sub over the life of a multiyear contract.)
But cable system executives, who are not flocking to INSP, say, in general, that if they slap an extra $1.50 a month onto the subscriber’s bill, they want to offer programming that will appeal to at least a portion of the subscriber base. “We have the channel in some of our Southern, Bible-belt communities,” says Rick Sperry, VP of marketing for Comcast, the third largest MSO in the U.S.
Cable systems in most of the country, however, are gravitating toward Court TV, E! Entertainment TV, the Learning Channel, TV Food Network, Country Music TV and America’s Talking, among others, as networks that will provide enough variety to ease the subscriber’s pain at getting a jacked-up monthly bill.
Martin realizes that to get the attention of cable systems, INSP will have to “create original programming and pick up some off-network programming.” Existing shows that would fit INSP’s family-values framework, he says, include “Highway to Heaven,” the recent CBS primetime “Christie” hour and the Disney Channel’s “Avonlea.”