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FamilyNet building sale closes TV era

FORT WORTH, Texas (BP)–The North American Mission Board has sold its broadcast building in Fort Worth, Texas, closing a chapter on Southern Baptist involvement in broadcast media.

The FamilyNet (previously known as the Radio and Television Commission, or RTVC) building was purchased in the early 1960s after the then-Southern Baptist Radio Commission moved from Atlanta to the Texas locale in 1955.

The Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported on Aug. 30 that NAMB had sold the facility along the city’s West Freeway to Chesapeake Energy Co. A NAMB spokesman said its records showed the sale being to Fort Worth Land, LLC.

The newspaper said the energy company would not be using the facilities for its soon-to-be-launched shale.tv online video channel sponsored by Chesapeake. Plans for the 87,966-square-foot building on five acres have not been determined.

NAMB listed the building at $3 million. Details of the sale were not available from NAMB due to standard confidentiality agreements between the mission board and the purchaser. The property had been on the market since November 2007.

NAMB media representative Mike Ebert said the proceeds from the sale will go into the board’s general budget fund. NAMB, like other SBC entities, is facing the possibility of a financial shortfall; SBC Cooperative Program receipts slipped 0.65 percent during the past year and, in NAMB’s case, its 2008 Annie Armstrong Easter Offering also is trending at a 3 percent decline.

Southern Baptists most likely will remember the RTVC as the producer of such popular programming as “JOT,” a children’s animated series. In 1989 RTVC earned an Emmy Award for its documentary “China: Walls and Bridges.”

As competition grew stronger in the mid-1980s with the advent of cable television, the commission developed the American Christian Television System (ACTS) to increase market share. But soaring programming costs eventually forced the RTVC to merge that network with another entity. SBC participation ended in 2003.

The RTVC’s greatest funding challenge was that it was fully dependent on denominational funding while other faith-based networks, such as Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker’s PTL and Pat Robertson’s CBN, relied heavily on on-air pleas for cash from donors. It eventually became apparent that, regardless of its good intentions, its business model as a ministry of the Southern Baptist Convention prevented it from competing for funding in the same manner as its competitors.

In 1991, in another attempt to compete in the cable market, the RTVC purchased FamilyNet from prominent Virginia pastor Jerry Falwell.

Six years later, in 1997, the RTVC was merged with the SBC’s then-Brotherhood Commission, based in Memphis, Tenn., and Home Mission Board, based in Alpharetta, Ga., to form NAMB. The new entity was created as part of the SBC’s Covenant for a New Century restructuring in an attempt to lower operating costs and create greater efficiency in resources as well as personnel.

While the Brotherhood Commission was completely absorbed into the new agency, the RTVC continued to operate as subsidiary of NAMB, sometimes informally referred to as “NAMB West.” The mission board was again streamlined in 2004 under growing economic pressure and reduced staff and budget by nearly 50 percent. Radio production ceased the following year.

The Fort Worth newspaper reported that last year the entity had 37 employees producing its radio and TV content from the site.

Since NAMB’s focus of evangelism, church starting and sending and equipping missionaries took priority over broadcast television production, it became obvious that FamilyNet could never reach its full potential under NAMB.

On Oct. 25, 2007, NAMB President Geoff Hammond and prominent Atlanta pastor Charles Stanley announced the sale of FamilyNet to Stanley’s In Touch Ministries. Under that agreement, NAMB will continue to have 30 minutes of programming on both the television and satellite radio channel each week. Also, a NAMB representative will hold a chair on FamilyNet’s board of directors.

In the meantime, NAMB still makes video production a priority and is currently developing a program to air on FamilyNet later this fall.
Joe Westbury is managing editor of The Christian Index, newsjournal of the Georgia Baptist Convention.

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