November 27, 2006
Lincoln Charter Advertiser for Gospel Music Channel's VOD Services

The Gospel Music Channel is working toward expanding its reach in cross-platform distribution, and they've found a corporate partner to help them expand into video-on-demand space: Lincoln.

The Ford Motor Company that produces all the Towncars I used to see parked in the lots surrounding Baptist churches all around Kentucky may be a good fit for gospel programming, and they are now the "charter advertiser" for the new service, as was the phrasing from Jon Lafayette with TelevisionWeek. They will be advertising for on-demand views of the Hometown Gospel series. Hometown Gospel segments will be offered on-demand, with 30-second Lincoln spots on the front and back end of each segment.

The Hometown Gospel specials are scheduled to air quarterly, with the first one debuting on the actual channel's lineup on Dec. 9. The VOD version will be made available next February.

According to the press surrounding the announcement, the VOD service has five hours of programming every week, with 45 minutes of programming being refreshed, and the service is now available to 10 million households.

The Gospel Music Channel was launched back in October 2004 as the first advertiser supported gospel cable network. Ford has been a leading advertiser with the network for some time, including deals as the exclusive automobile advertiser for certain block's of the network's programming.

That Ford would be popular among Christian music listeners may not be that surprising, and it seems natural that Ford would be a brand that could lead gospel content into a new space as a charter advertiser. Yet we also found out last year that, when Ford thinks about targeting new markets--like gay consumers--aligning with Christian groups conflict. Last December, Ford pulled ads for the Jaguar and Land Rover from gay publications after the American Family Association pressured them for "supporting the homosexual agenda." At the time, Alec Austin also made his thoughts known, saying that Ford's bowing to the pressure of the AFA contrasted sharply with Kraft, who refused to pull advertising and support from sponsoring the 2006 Gay Games. "This is one case where I'm actually pleased that 'fan' pressure failed to achieve its desired goal," he said. Alec reported only days later that Ford had reversed its stance once again and restored advertising in gay magazines, after meeting with representatives from several LBGT advocacy groups.

The whole thing coincides with recent public pressure and boycotts of Wal-Mart from some in the Christian conservative right because of the company's joining the National Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce. I've been following a series of letters to the editor in the Greenville Leader-News in which some local citizens are creating a grassroots effort to boycott Wal-Mart because of their refusal to, in their minds, indirectly help fund an alliance with a gay organization. Others in the community have written in objection to the letters of protest to Wal-Mart.

This is not to suggest that the Gospel Music Channel is connected to these movements in any way or to say that Ford is wrong for running ads for content associated with Christianity. I only point back to Ford's previous problems and Wal-Mart's current plight to point out the complications when a company runs ads with a group that has definite religious and, subsequently, political views and, conversely, the difficulty some advertisers may have with supporting Christian programming, given the track record some (and again far from all) Christian groups have with powerful efforts to put pressure on advertisers whose actions they do not support. For some, while supporting gay organizations or advertising with gay publications may be considered asking for trouble, supporting Christian programming may be considered just as dangerous or perhaps more so.

Earlier this month, I wrote about the link between religion and convergence. And there has been many people who have traced the many ways in which cyberspace has been an important site for innovation in proselytizing. Also look at Fox Faith and its first theatrical release, Love's Abiding Joy.

Also see this recent post on debates about file sharing in the Christian music industry.