Faith, Media & Culture

Here’s today’s dispatch from the crossroads of faith, media and culture.

Movin’ on UP.  This past weekend (June 1) GMC TV officially began operating under its new moniker. The new name is simply UP, as in Uplifting Programming.

Founded in 2004 as The Gospel Music Channel by Charley Humbard, the entrepreneurial son of the groundbreaking televangelist Rex Humbard, the network became GMC TV in 2010 to reflect the broadening of a schedule that included specials, world premiere TV movies and reruns of classic TV series. Since that time, Charley, along with his friend and Vice Chairman Brad Siegel (formerly of Turner Entertainment Networks), has grown the station to become one of cable’s fastest-growing networks and one of television’s top distributors of positive, faith-based and family friendly entertainment. Now, with the channel moving into original series, the network’s name is changing once again.

I recently talked with the duo about thinking behind the new name and the future of UP.

JWK: How did the idea for the name change come about and what do you hope to accomplish by it?

CHARLEY HUMBARD: You know our history a little bit. You know where we came from starting with our roots in gospel and Christian music and evolving into movies and series and evolving the name to use really our acronym of GMC. What was consistent throughout the entire time we’ve been on the air was our music was always uplifting, great entertainment for people and families, as well as when we started adding movies and series we were still very much Uplifting Entertainment. So, it’s really been our brand position that we’ve tried to capture in viewers’ minds in and in our advertiser partners and distributors as well.  We are Uplifting Entertainment. We are the leaders in Uplifting Entertainment — dependable and 24 hours a day, across the country.

So, that position is what we’re carrying forward and it’s really great. We’ll just focus on that. We thought the best way to do that was to just lift the first word up “UP” from that — Uplifting Positioning. It’s simply UP. It’s punchy. It’s contemporary, youthful, playful. It’s great for creative (marketing) and, in the end, it’s great for us to own UP when viewers are thinking about things they want to see and having a position that we are positive and Uplifting Programming.

JWK: I definitely get it. UP is very inviting to the viewer. It helps you to communicate the positive message of the Gospel — of the value of love and kindness and forgiveness — to a wider audience. I can see how the name Gospel Music Channel may have suggested to some that your programming was only aimed at a specific, limited audience.

CHARLEY HUMBARD: Yeah, that’s right. And we experienced that. It was great for us as a music channel. It didn’t work so well as we broadened our programming to include other things beyond music. But then GMC wasn’t very defining for us. It was actually sometimes counter (productive) because of the little truck company. So, it wasn’t really clear and, in this day when you’re getting bombarded daily by a barrage of brands and messages and things, the clearer you can be and the more succinct you can be about what you stand for and who you are, the more memorable you can be.

BRAD SIEGEL: The product’s name — in this case our product is our network — can potentially be your best marketing tool. If you can have a name that clearly says to people what you are, what you stand for and you can get that share of mind that’s so critical when you’re trying to create a brand and have a memorable brand then your name’s going to really work for you as a marketing tool…We now have a name that says what we want people to take away about this network. GMC didn’t give people any information about what the network was and what the programming was.

JWK: I know what you mean. Even when I googled GMC I would be taken to that little truck company.

BRAD SIEGEL: Exactly…(And despite) the fact that we haven’t used the words “Gospel Music Channel” for (about) four years, I think, some people still wanted to say Gospel Music Channel. As you said, that then created a barrier for a lot of people who want to tune in.

JWK: The name UP is also easy to play with in terms of creating slogans.  I can see things like “UP at Night” and “UP in the Morning” to promote your various dayparts.

BRAD SIEGEL: You’re  gonna see a lot of that on the air…I think that as the days and weeks and months go by (our creative team is) is just going to have a great time coming up with all the UPisms.

JWK: Does the name change signal any kind of change in the programming content?

BRAD SIEGEL: I never want to say the programming is going to stay the same because the network is always developing and producing and adding more and better programming but the nature of the programming — of being Uplifting Entertainment, Uplifting Programs — will stay the same …The people love the network for shows like Touched by an Angel, 7th Heaven, Judging Amy, Moesha, Sister, Sister and The Waltons.  You’ll still see those great family favorite shows and you’ll still see them in the time slots that they’ve been scheduled in. You’ll still see faith-friendly, family-friendly original movies.  The programming, the philosophy, everything that people like about GMC Uplifting Entertainment will stay the shame for UP. People say “You’re re-branding”  because that’s such a popular thing today. No, we’re not re-branding. The brand is exactly the same. It’s the name that’s changing.

JWK: You folks are also moving into the series arena with shows like The Bulloch Family Ranch and Family Addition with Leigh Anne Tuohy.

BRAD SIEGEL: Yeah. In fact, that was one of the reasons that we wanted to move the launch of UP. Initially, we were planning to do it in September (but) the response we got from our advertisers, affiliates and consumers was so overwhelmingly positive. We looked at that combined with the fact that we had or first two reality series launching in June and July — which were Family Addition at 9:00 PM (ET) on Friday night June 7th…this Friday — and then The Bulloch Family Ranch launches in July.  We (had) an original movie premiering (last) Sunday called Jimmy (replaying this Friday at 11:00 PM ET). It’s a phenomenal movie, the third in the trilogy from Robert Whitlow, the author who wrote The Trial and The List. Those are the first two books (which we turned into) movies. This is the third and it’s by far  the best…We have eleven original premieres over the course of the summer. Heartland, Season 4, premieres in June as well on Wednesday night.  The creative team came up with the phrase Summer UP. You’ve heard of “Gear Up.” You’ve heard of “Power Up.”  Now, you’ve got Summer UP. All summer long, you have the name change to UP and eleven original programs premiering.

JWK: Aside from the Heartland, any additional scripted shows in the pipeline?

BRAD SIEGEL: Nothing that we have set to premiere yet. We have one that we are developing but we haven’t greenlit anything yet.

JWK: Who do you see as your primary competition? Is Hallmark Channel your chief competitor?

CHARLEY HUMBARD: It’s somewhat the same I guess as what you’d perceive as (where specific) viewers spend their time (and) what channels they watch.

BRAD SIEGEL: I think that we have a very unique space in the world of big, family-friendly entertainment. I think that your readers really understand that and our viewers really understand that. We are values-affirming programming…So, when you ask who is your competition? I don’t think that there’s anybody who is in that same programming space. We are unique in the television landscape in providing uplifting, family-safe, entertainment — 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Nobody else is doing that.

Now, there are other networks that family friendly. Hallmark is certainly family friendly…There are other networks that focus on woman. And that is part of our appeal — is to moms — like a Lifetime or Lifetime Movie Channel or Home and Garden (HGTV). There are channels that have a greater propensity to appeal to African-Americans which we have a large appeal to as well. And then there’s OWN and I think OWN is more and more doing the kind of positive, uplifting programming that we’ve been doing. I think that those are networks that all  sort of touch on what we do and certainly draw viewers from us and advertising dollars out of the marketplace.  But I think, if you ask our viewers, they overwhelmingly will tell you that GMC and now UP is very unique on their dial and I think that most of them will tell you it’s their favorite channel.

JWK: The fact that there are other channels turning toward and focusing on this kind of entertainment kind of shows that you’re on the right path and  that what you’re doing is connecting with viewers. The competition lifts you all UP, so to speak.

CHARLEY HUMBARD: It is good. There are a couple of things that really differentiates us…from someone like a Hallmark or a Hallmark Movie Channel. They’re typically moms with grandkids. They are much older in the viewing category than we are as far as where we are now and where we’re going.

But the other thing is the intent in which we produce our programming and provide our programming. And I can share this with you, John and your readers, our purpose here is to inspire souls to be better. I don’t think there’s another brand out there in cable today that looks at the industry or looks at what they’re doing and says “That’s really our intention — is to make people’s hearts better, to help them think about their lives in a different way and to get them to a better place.  Certainly, general entertainment does that through dramas and comedies but our entire network is focused on doing that. So, when somebody comes to view us, our intention is that they leave us in some way highly entertained but also in a little bit better place.

We just got a letter — I loved it– this week. We get a lot of emails from viewers and I have our consumer person pull out an email every day. We call it the Daily UPlifter and we distribute it to the staff here. And one this week was (from) a lady writing in and talking about her son who is married. She didn’t say they were having marital problems but she said “You know, he’s not one to go out of his way to share with his wife his feelings or anything like that but I just gotta share with you GMC that this week he took time to write her a love note and leave it for her to read and it was the first time he’s ever done something like that and he did it because of a story he had watched on Touched by an Angel”  — on our channel. And she was just writing to say, you know, “Thank you for what you do” and it was just a perfect example of what we talk about and how entertainment can move people to a better place — and it can be intentional. And that’s the difference. Some people have a show on here or a show on there  that can do that but our entire brand is about that. I think that’s something that maybe your readers will really appreciate as well (and it’s) why I think our brand has been so successful.

JWK: Your audience is probably more culturally diverse than some of the others. Would that be fair to say?

CHARLEY HUMBARD: We’ve always had — coming out of the Gospel Music Channel, a really high ability to bring African-American viewers into the channel. That’s stayed consistent even as we’ve evolved to a wider programming base. We program specifically for African-Americans on Saturday nights…We have the Stellar Awards (and) a lot of really unique and special programming. Also African-Americans — in their (commitment to) faith and family — find a real home with us because of those qualities that are prevalent in our programming — community and family. I think they’re drawn to us not just because of stories (about) African-Americans but (because of) values they can relate to.

JWK: What do you think the success of The Bible on The History Channel suggests about the mainstream appeal and future of faith-based programming?

CHARLEY HUMBARD: We love that…I think that show was very powerful and expressed a lot of the pure Scriptures to a lot of people that may not have been familiar with it. Even (for) me, who grew up on church and in Sunday school, it was really amazing to see those stories played out in the way Mark (Burnett) and Roma (Downey) produced that show. But, also, it sends the message again to the industry that, you know what?, there is a place and really a business for positive, uplifting storytelling and I think any time you see that it’s good for people. We like to say around here “We were (about) faith when faith wasn’t so cool.” It’s always been a part of our brand…So, for us, it just helps reaffirm to advertisers, distributors and everyone in the industry that we’re in a great space that’s very positive and, by the way, it makes good business if you’re producing quality entertainment programming that affirms people’s faith.

JWK: So you would consider it to be a success if you actually influenced — through your programming — what the broadcast networks put on their own schedules.


JWK: Mark Burnett has announced that he’s developing a follow-up series to The Bible. Any chance it could end up on UP?

CHARLEY HUMBARD: We spend a lot of time — and Brad especially — out there with the top producers. We’re talking to I think everybody that is very successful at making shows — and especially people that understand our audience. I think Mark’s one of them and…we will pursue any kind of good productions out there — especially from top producers. So, there’s always a chance. There’s nothing specific going on about that but there’s always a chance.

JWK: Watching the culture as I do for Beliefnet, I notice that popular music has been getting less edgy and more upbeat lately — with songs like Make This Place Your Home  and Carry On.  It almost strikes me as a reverse canary in the mine that popular songs are striking a lighter, more hopeful tone again.

CHARLEY HUMBARD: I think that’s a fascinating point…I think that’s right. I think that music is at its best is when its reflecting the culture of the times.  So, hopefully, that’s a good sign. To your point, John, I do think a lot of music out there today is uplifting (with) positive themes…So, it is a good sign that things are (looking) UP after the tough years we’ve had and music is usually a good barometer of that.

JWK: Where do you see UP being in five years?

CHARLEY HUMBARD: I think we’ll be a first thought for people who sit down in front of the television and say “Boy, I really need a little pick-me-up today, a little good story, some great entertainment that makes me feel good.” That’s a great place to be. We want to be a first thought in people’s minds for that. I think we’ll be a leading brand in cable and television but also I think we’ll have other sub-brands around that in music and other things of entertainment. We have a movie channel now called gMovies which is all faith-based movies. So, I think more of those types of brands can stream off of UP. I think you’ll see a much wider footprint with that and an international footprint in five years because…there’s an appetite for (Uplifting Programming)  in many…territories.

Note: For more into in UP programming, you can visit the network’s website

Tomorrow: A conversation with Family Addition host Leigh Anne Tuohy

Encourage one another and build each other up – 1 Thessalonians 5:11

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