News Articles

FamilyNet access to DISH Network system puts move to for-profit status on hold

ALPHARETTA, Ga. (BP)–An opportunity to place FamilyNet programming in an additional 7 million households on the DISH Network direct broadcast satellite system has prompted the North American Mission Board to put on hold earlier plans to make the Christian television network an independent for-profit subsidiary.

While the agency is moving ahead with a reorganization that will make FamilyNet more independent of the current NAMB organizational structure, trustees agreed Feb. 5 to retain the nonprofit status of the network in order to qualify as a provider of non-commercial, public-service programming for DISH Network.

NAMB trustees also heard a report on 43 new missionaries appointed since their last meeting and learned that 29 chaplains had been endorsed by the board’s Chaplains Commission.

FamilyNet, operated by NAMB, currently is available in about 8 million homes 24 hours a day through cable outlets, local affiliate stations and a limited number of direct broadcast satellite customers of the DISH Network.

Under the new agreement, the current FamilyNet feed – supported largely by commercial sponsorship – would continue to be provided to the cable and affiliate outlets. But the DISH Network also would be provided similar FamilyNet programming on a second non-commercial feed for the much larger base of subscribers to its “America’s Top 50” programming package.

The move would increase the number of homes receiving FamilyNet programming 24 hours a day to about 15 million, NAMB Executive Vice President Randy Singer said.

“We see this as a tremendous opportunity to further penetrate the culture with a balanced network of family friendly programming and some of the best biblical teaching available anywhere,” Singer said. “In addition, the new format on the DISH Network should allow opportunities to highlight SBC ministries through short one- or two-minute informative spots.”

NAMB President Robert E. Reccord was unable to attend the meeting because of illness.

NAMB trustees had voted last August to pursue a plan to make FamilyNet a for-profit entity in order to vastly increase the network’s impact nationally. A primary goal was to allow the agency to secure outside investors who could have funded expansion of programming, marketing and distribution.

Singer said the new development – which could be in place within the next few months – might allow NAMB to pursue those same objectives.

“Those 8 million additional homes on Echostar are so valuable that we may now be able to achieve these goals without having to convert to a for-profit,” Singer told trustees.

“At the very least, we believe it now requires further study as to whether we should proceed with plans to convert even a portion of FamilyNet to for-profit [for example, the cable distribution system] or whether we can accomplish these goals now while remaining nonprofit.”

As part of the trustee action, management of NAMB and FamilyNet will continue to study how best to meet goals of expanding the impact of FamilyNet while at the same time seeing the network reach a break-even point within three years. Until then, NAMB will provide a programming subsidy for FamilyNet as determined by the budgeting process, in addition to a series of loan commitments of $9 million over the next three years that were part of the original reorganization plan approved last August.

The FamilyNet restructuring also was amended to strengthen the accountability of FamilyNet to NAMB, reaffirming NAMB’s responsibility to appoint all FamilyNet trustees and establishing an advisory board appointed to provide direction on the overall quality, nature and direction of FamilyNet programming.

The change in plans also means that a request for approval of the change to for-profit status from the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention will now be put on hold pending further study. NAMB had presented the issue to the committee in September, with action anticipated during the committee’s February meeting.

In other business, trustees responded to five motions referred from the Southern Baptist Convention.

“These are things that have been handled in one way or another in prior meetings of our trustees, so the recommendations on each of them is to remain true to prior actions of the trustees,” Singer said. “We believe the policies and procedures in each case are adequate to respond to these concerns.”

The motions sought revisions to NAMB’s policy regarding the endorsement of female chaplains, changes to the “Eternal Life” evangelism tract, evangelism strategies for reaching people with disabilities, and the changes in a policy on affirmation of the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message statement of Southern Baptist beliefs.

Trustees also approved new cooperative agreements with six state conventions: Alabama, Hawaii-Pacific, Indiana, Iowa, Minnesota-Wisconsin and the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention. The agency is in the process of working with all of its state partners to develop new agreements setting forth parameters for cooperative missions efforts.

    About the Author

  • James Dotson