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DirecTV to Help Spread Gospel

Gospel Music Channel and DirecTV will start spreading the word in Denver, Jacksonville, and Dallas/Fort Worth Monday.

The independent network and the No. 1 direct-broadcast satellite carrier are combining on an acquisition-aimed co-op campaign in those markets. The initiative marks Gospel’s initial TV-advertising thrust and the first time a cable channel has been included within DirecTV’s local-to-local broadcast-station packages

Brad Bentley, vice president of acquisition marketing for DirecTV, said Gospel sought national carriage, but “our capacity is tight,” so the parties agreed to the network’s being included within the local-to-local packages.

“Cable does this all the time. Our national spectrum is valuable, but we think the network has appeal,” he added. “We have already received positive feedback from customers where the service has launched. Now we want to see how it works as an acquisition vehicle.”

Bentley said the service would expand into other markets and even nationally, provided that it reached certain penetration levels within a time period. He would not specify those benchmarks, but he believes Gospel can resonate with new customers.

“We’re putting our best foot forward,” he said. “These are markets that Gospel Music Channel has identified as overindexing against genre album sales and other indicators.”

In addition to the aforementioned markets, DirecTV is offering Gospel in Minneapolis; Orlando, Fla.; Philadelphia; Kansas City; Paducah, Ky.; and Austin and San Antonio, Texas -- areas where it doesn’t have relationships with the predominant cable operators. Gospel -- which has carriage deals with Comcast, Cox Communications, Charter Communications and Verizon Communications, the latter for the telco’s FiOS TV service -- expects to count 10 million subscribers by year-end, according to Genia Edelman, the network’s VP of sales and marketing.

Gospel vice chairman Brad Siegel said that given DirecTV’s bandwidth constraints into next year, the local approach was a way to “show the demand for the network in key markets.” He added that the deal also affords Gospel great sampling through strong channel positioning: It resides on channel 15 except in Orlando, where it is Channel 14.

The TV creative -- integrating such diverse artists as Michael W. Smith (pop), Canton Jones (hip-hop) and George Huff (rhythm-and-blues) -- takes shape in the form of 30- and 60-second spots that close with Della Reese preaching the tag line: “Do it for your faith. Do it for your family. Get Gospel Music Channel.”

The flight, covering broadcast buys across multiple dayparts in the three markets, extends through Sept. 18.

“The aim is to dispel the notion that this is a praise network and that its only fans are little old ladies in the back of churches or folks in a pew,” said Rob Farinella, president of Atlanta-based Blue Sky Agency. “We want to change the perception of how people hear gospel; it’s a celebration of the variety of artists and genres that have been influenced by this music.”

In addition, Gospel is deploying print and radio schedules largely against Christian-oriented media in the various DirecTV markets. Siegel also said that in mid-September, the network will engage in grassroots efforts via institutionalized “church marketing” and “peer-to-peer” initiatives, whereby influencers will disseminate its message.