UP and Away for Brad Siegel

As UP network — formerly the Gospel Music Channel — celebrated its 10th anniversary last week, network’s vice chairman Brad Siegel announced his plans to depart from the channel by year-end. Siegel spoke to Multichannel News programming editor R. Thomas Umstead about his decade-long run with the network and his future plans as well as his thoughts on an evolving cable industry. An edited transcript follows.

MCN: What was behind your decision to leave the network?

Brad Siegel: When I left Turner at the end of 2003, what I wanted to do was to build a network again. I’ve always liked startups and I wanted to build something from scratch and that’s what I did with Gospel Music Channel with 1,700 homes in Johnson, Tenn., 10 years ago. Now we’re in close to 70 million homes so it was a great ride.

From Gospel Music Channel to GMC: Uplifting Entertainment and now to UP, the mission has remained the same: to offer positive, family friendly entertainment. For me, we’ve done so much, so after 10 years I wanted to do something different. With my contract up at the end of the year, I approached Charley [Humbard, UP president and CEO] and said I’m really ready to move on and look for a new challenge. I have a few things in the works that I’ll announce in the near future.

MCN: What do you consider your legacy at UP?

BS: I’m proud of the fact that given our limited resources, we are in the middle of the pack out of 150 rated networks, even with our small marketing budgets and small original programming budgets, and I’m proud of building a place where people like to come to work to every day. There are a lot of networks and a lot of programming out there that people are not proud of, so I think that we built a place that’s a great place to work.

I’m also proud of the development of Aspire — it was a passion project for me along with Mr. [Earvin “Magic”] Johnson and then successfully [pitching] it to Comcast and being the first minority-owned network that Comcast launched as part of their commitment after they merged with NBC Universal. That was two years ago, and now the network is in 21 million homes and growing. It’s a brand that’s unique in the television landscape.

MCN: Your success with Gospel Music Channel/UP as an independently-owned network is rare in cable. How do you see today’s cable environment for launching a new independent channel?

BS: The environment of independent networks has only gotten worse. For independents and linear networks in general, you’re hard pressed to find a genre that’s really not represented on television. I think that the cost of competing in this environment today is so extraordinary, both for getting distribution and then getting ratings. Also, I don’t think we’ve ever seen the rate of change within the industry evolve as quickly as it’s moving now. The way people are consuming television has never changed at a rate faster than we are currently experiencing.

MCN: What would it take to launch a successful independent network today?

BS: You have to have a vision, a mission and a brand proposition that is clearly defined, and have a large and passionate target audience that understands and demands that brand. That to me is absolutely critical to succeed always, but more so in today’s cable environment.

MCN: Having said that would you entertain launching an independent television network in the future?

BS: No, not a startup. I definitely feel like I have another network or two in me and I’m looking at several other things and opportunities.

R. Thomas Umstead

R. Thomas Umstead serves as senior content producer, programming for Multichannel News, Broadcasting + Cable and Next TV. During his more than 30-year career as a print and online journalist, Umstead has written articles on a variety of subjects ranging from TV technology, marketing and sports production to content distribution and development. He has provided expert commentary on television issues and trends for such TV, print, radio and streaming outlets as Fox News, CNBC, the Today show, USA Today, The New York Times and National Public Radio. Umstead has also filmed, produced and edited more than 100 original video interviews, profiles and news reports featuring key cable television executives as well as entertainers and celebrity personalities.