The Word Network Moves Toward Mainstream

A little less than three years after urban religious broadcaster The Word Network came on line, the mostly digital channel is moving from its successful efforts to gain the attention of MSOs and satellite providers to a new charge: Consolidating its gains and increasing awareness among viewers and potential viewers.

The nonprofit channel is nearing the 30 million subscriber mark with distribution in the top 5 urban markets and distribution in more than half of the top 50 urban markets. Distribution deals have been made with Time Warner, Comcast, Adelphia, Cablevision and DirecTV. The channel’s also available to the U.S. armed forces and cable and satellite in Africa. Programming is mostly religious, with ministries and gospel music along with video profiles of famous African Americans. While it’s not ad-supported, The Word Network has forged sponsorships with small companies and this year snagged a big one: Kellogg’s. It’s also planning to do more in the future as opportunities arise.



John Mattiello, director of marketing and affiliate relations, said The Word Network is pushing ahead with distribution, targeting the top 100 urban markets according to the 2000 Census. “There’s still a large part of urban markets that don’t have us yet,” Mattiello said. While formal marketing surveys haven’t been done on The Word Network’s audience, Mattiello said viewership comes not only from the African American community but also Hispanics drawn to The Word’s family friendly and inspirational programming.

A new phase, heralded by the Kellogg’s deal as well as talks with ratings services and listings providers like USA Today and TV Guide, is kicking into high gear. The channel’s executives met Monday with USA Today to discuss getting The Word Network listed in the newspaper; a similar meeting with TV Guide is scheduled Feb. 14.

Sam Riddle, a management consultant to both The Word Network and the National Association of Black Organizations, said

“What we believe we bring to the table is an audience that is quite frankly underserved, underrepresented by satellite and cable,” Riddle said. He said it’s harder to convince, since the channel doesn’t yet have a conventional measure like Nielsen Media Research ratings. And it isn’t easy from the listings providers’ standpoint, Riddle said, even when they want to oblige: There’s only so much room for listings and a lot of channels out there. But the channel sees it as crucial for its development.

“He [the representative from USA Today] was saying, ‘OK, you’ve got the carriage but do you have the numbers? What does Nielsen say.’ We’ve penetrated the market in terms of carriage but now we’re at the stage to move from carriage to letting viewers know where they can view The Word,” Riddle said.

On the other hand, Riddle said, there’s only one listing for a channel for African Americans, which is the nation’s largest minority group. Riddle said BET targets a narrower age range. “They [The Word Network] have got a broad audience reach. If you can carry two C-SPAN listings and one BET, there’s certainly room for one Word,” he said.

Kellogg’s, as The Word Network’s first major partner, is sponsoring a four-city Gospel junior choir singoff in Detroit, Chicago, Atlanta and Washington, D.C. The choirs compete for a trip to the Bahamas, where they will perform in an international event. The events will be held in May and the coverage will air during the summer.

“It’s a real big deal for us. We’re always looking for something big [to bring to our viewers], something they can’t find anywhere else,” Mattiello said. The Kellogg’s sponsorship details are still being worked out, but Mattiello said Kellogg’s in-program visibility will be along the lines of a sponsorship on PBS.

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