Scripting a New Reality at UP

UP will start the 2015-16 upfront season with a greater emphasis on original reality and scripted series, trying to broaden its image beyond its roots as Gospel Music Channel.

The spiritually minded programmer, which has about 70 million subscribers, will dial back on faith-based content for more broadly targeted inspiring and family-friendly programming, recently named network general manager Amy Winter told Multichannel News.

In doing so, UP will go head-to-head with family-targeted networks such as Hallmark Channel and Nick at Nite for ad dollars from companies looking to reach mothers and heads of households.

The network hopes the broader audience outreach will provide a boost in ratings. While the network posted an 8% year-to-year primetime viewer gain in 2014, its average audience of 200,000 viewers was well below Hallmark’s 909,000 viewers.


UP’s programming mix plays better with advertisers than content from traditional female- targeted networks that may offer more salacious programming, or family-targeted networks that tend to skew older than the network’s 25-54 target audience, executive vice president of ad sales Lisa Fisher said.

“It’s really safe content and there’s an importance to reaching audiences with that type of programming because of product consumption, which is an attribute that we can bring to the table when bringing families together,” Fisher said.

UP’s mainstays have been original, faith-based movies, gospel-themed music videos and series and movie acquisitions. It now hopes to have three reality series and at least one scripted show on the schedule by the end of the year.

New original reality series include Shannon & Sophie, about Shannon Tweed-Simmons and her daughter, and The Holderness Family, about a family whose videos have become Internet hits.

On the scripted front, UP is readying Ties That Bind, a hybrid police and family drama about a tough Atlanta detective and the challenges of her home life.

“Series allows for continuity and for us to define the brand,” Winter said.


While the network skews toward women, Winter says the family-friendly theme is inviting to male viewers as well. She pointed to the audience for freshman reality series Bringing Up Bates; 50% of its audience co-views with spouses and family members.

UP will still offer seasonal-themed shows like the recently-aired Noah’s Ark, an original movie timed to run before Easter.

Faith-based programming “is such a narrow portion of the niche,” she said. “The content promise we have for feel-good family television is so much larger than that.”

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.