Mar 8, 2022 - Economy

Exclusive: World's largest Christian broadcaster pivots to news

Host Doug McKelway at Centerpoint set in Dallas, Texas. Photo credit: TBN

Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN), which calls itself the world's largest Christian television broadcaster, is launching a news show called “Centerpoint” with Fox News alums.

Why it matters: TBN is looking to build a "Christian lifestyle brand" rather than just "preaching and teaching," TBN VP of Marketing Nate Daniels told Axios.

Details: "Centerpoint" will air at 7:30 p.m. ET on weekdays and will be replayed at 10:30 p.m. ET so that West Coast audiences get it at 7:30 p.m. their time. In the fall, TBN plans to add another half hour to the show.

  • It will be anchored by former Fox News Washington correspondent Doug McKelway and produced by Michael Clemente, former Newsmax CEO and Fox News EVP of News.
  • The show "will cover news of the day and other top stories," said Clemente, who joined the network full-time this year.
  • The programming isn't meant to be politically biased, but will lean into Christian values. The show plans to feature newsmakers as guests with the possibility of recurring panelists down the line, McKelway said.
  • Clemente plans to hire more reporters in the future, but will also leverage existing partnerships with TBN's overseas bureaus. Clemente hopes to launch more news programs.

Catch up quick: TBN was founded in 1973 by Paul and Jan Crouch as a small part-time station in California. Their son, Matt Crouch, now serves as president.

  • It now reaches over 175 countries in more than 14 languages, its website notes, making it one of the largest Christian broadcasters globally. TBN has 32 foreign partner networks, including TBN UK, "Miracle Channel" in Canada.
  • TBN is best known for "preacher programming" via personalities like Joel Osteen and Joyce Meyer. TBN used to run "praise-a-thon" specials, which encouraged viewers to donate to TBN.

Yes, but: The network has faced its fair share of controversies.

  • In 2017, the granddaughter of Paul and Jan Crouch was awarded $2 million after a jury concluded that Jan Crouch acted "outrageously" in failing to report her granddaughter's sexual assault.
  • A different granddaughter of the Crouch's, Brittany Koper, accused TBN in 2012 of illegally spending TBN funds. While TBN has denied those accusations, third-party charity transparency group Charity Navigator warns of TBN's track record for lack of financial accountability and transparency.

By the numbers: TBN's main network reaches roughly 95 million households across over-the-air, cable and satellite providers.

  • Its second-largest channel, TBN Inspire, is a preaching, teaching and worship channel that features gospel music. Its third-largest channel, Positiv TV, plays mostly feel-good movies about redemption.
  • TBN also has an $8 monthly subscription streaming service called "that has tens of thousands of paying subscribers," per Daniels.

A non-profit, TBN makes most of its money from donations, but has pushed in recent years to diversify its revenue opportunities, Daniels said.

  • Tax fillings show TBN's non-profit parent, Trinity Christian Center Of Santa Ana Inc., was sitting on over $1 billion worth of assets before transferring most of them (~$860 million) over to a Texas-based non-profit affiliate in 2019.
  • Tax filings show that contributions revenue has declined in recent years. The network has sold some of its broadcast spectrum back to the FCC for cash.

The big picture: Christian broadcast networks are a big part of America's TV ecosystem. They are typically political and socially conservative.

  • Religious broadcasters in general have been very adept at navigating FCC broadcast regulations.
  • According to the FCC, as of 2017, approximately 80% of the 2,400 Christian radio stations and 100 full-power Christian TV stations are nonprofits.
  • Around 40% of Christian TV and radio programs are “news and information,” per National Religious Broadcasters data cited by the FCC.

TBN's biggest competitor has long been Christian Broadcasting Network, founded by Pat Robertson in 1960.

Between the lines: TBN has been experimenting with more political, news and lifestyle programming.

  • In 2017, TBN launched a talk show with Mike Huckabee, which Daniels said "gives us confidence as we move into the space there's an appetite for our audience."
  • In November, it launched a show called "Takeaways," with actor and Evangelical activist Kirk Cameron. In May, it will launch a new show with TV host Mike Rowe and Matt Crouch.

What's next: "We're working on building more towards a daytime lineup," Daniels said.

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