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Putting Faith in Reality

Gospel Music Channel will be singing the praises of the reality genre as the four-year old service looks to increase viewership and ratings over the next year.

The 40 million-subscriber channel will add at least three reality-oriented series to its lineup of gospel music-themed videos, concerts and awards shows in 2009 — its first year as a Nielsen-rated network, according to Gospel Music Channel founder and president Charles Humbard.

“We hope we can grow on the ratings side just as we've done on the cable-distribution side to be one of the highest-rated music-focused cable networks in the industry,” said Humbard, adding that the network added 19 million subscribers in 2008.

Humbard said the network currently averages a 0.1 household rating, but expects that number to increase to 0.12 as the network begins to roll out content that it hopes will create appointment viewing during its weekend primetime block.

“We've been working hard to bring the best in concerts and biography-type series about the artists, but in 2009 you'll see us move into more music reality-based content,” he said. “We'll still remain very music-centric and focused on our brand, but there's so much to explore around that theme and what we can do.”

New reality series on tap for the network include Choir Doctor, in which experts look to improve various church choirs around the country; Ha!, a short-form standup comedy series; and Community Service, a series based upon characters created by popular African-American playwright J.D. Lawrence.

Those series will join recently launch reality drama Revolve: Rocking the Road, a five-episode series that follows four advance team members of the teen girls-targeted Revolve Tour.

Also joining Gospel's lineup in 2009 is exclusive cable coverage of the syndicated Stellar Awards, which honors achievements in gospel music, according to Humbard. The network will also create a 10-part series chronicling the best of the Stellar Awards in late March.

A month later, Gospel will air exclusive live coverage of the Dove Awards, celebrating the best in Christian and gospel music.

“We have content that relates to the lifestyles of our viewers — they cannot find it anywhere else, so it's an underserved viewerbase,” Hubbard said. “I think it's those basic connections that have worked so well for us.”

Humbard said he's not concerned about the growing number of gospel music-based shows popping up on traditional networks. BET, for example, will debut in 2009 a weekly Gospel music countdown show similar to its popular 106 and Park.

“We're excited that people are recognizing that this has worked so well, and in fact having more gospel music programming out there is probably a good thing,” he said. “Just like any destination brand, if viewers see something on BET that they really like on Sunday and they want to see something like it on Wednesday, they'll have to tune in to Gospel Music Channel. In a way they're doing some good marketing for us.”