CHARLOTTE - The INSP TV channel offers family-safe programming, and it's got a great Steubenville connection: Its vice president of digital marketing is Tom Needham, a city native and graduate of Steubenville Catholic Central and the Franciscan University of Steubenville.
Except, unless you have Dish or DirecTV, you won't find it on the air in the Steubenville area - it's not available on local cable outlets.
Needham worked at the Herald-Star and The Weirton Daily Times from 1996 to 1999, including serving as sports editor from 1998 to 1999. He moved on to the Charlotte Business Times and had written a couple of sports books before answering yes to a friend's request to go to work at INSP in 2008.
LOCAL TIES — Tom Needham sits inside his office at INSP TV channel in Charlotte, N.C. Needham, a city native and graduate of Steubenville Catholic Central and the Franciscan University of Steubenville, is vice president of digital marketing for the channel, which offers family oriented programming. —Contributed
"There are about 114 million households with televisions, Neilsen says, and we are in about 80 million, including through DirecTV and Dish," he said.
"It is amazing. When I meet people who don't know about INSP and I explain who we are and what we're doing, over and over I hear, 'Wow! I could get behind that.' The demand for this type of programming - centered on family and hope, seeing the good in life - the demand is strong," said Needham.
"Messages of hope and good news - they sell too."
The network itself has been around since 1990, originally providing paid ministry programming such as Joyce Meyer or Joel Osteen. An entertainment initiative termed "New Day" began in October 2010, with INSP airing family-friendly programs such as "The Waltons," "Little House on the Prairie," "Dr. Quinn Medine Woman," "Matlock," "High Chaparral," "The Virginian," "Bonanza, "Happy Days" and "The Brady Bunch." The network's Neilsen ratings have swelled 373 percent since then, through the week of May 13.
"Our brand is about hope, about inspiration, about family-centered living, about the traditional values that cross the generations," Needham said. "You see that reflected in the type of programming we are selecting to put on the air.
"It's a bit unique in today's TV culture. Our brand, INSP, this voice we are creating, and my personal belief system are so aligned that working here is almost like a calling," said Needham.
He met his wife, Melanie, while both were working at the Herald-Star - she was a news photographer - and they have daughters ages 7 and 5. Needham writes about family and fatherhood on his blog, independent of his job at the network, towhommuchisgiven.org. His office is filled with big photographs of his wife and children, as well as mementoes including a Catholic Central football helmet.
"Our executives here say that we are creating lunge-free TV - as in, parents do not have to lunge for the remote when their children are in the room," he said. "We are approved by the Parents Television Council, which approves networks and shows as suitable for a family audience. It is what we are trying to build. There is not a lot of that out there."
The numbers bear out Needham's statement that there is a market for such programming: Neilsen statistics show INSP was second among all networks in the measurement of average length of tune-in by viewers during the entire entertainment day (excluding children's networks) for 2012. Similarly, the channel was No. 1 in prime-time in average length of tune-in, excluding children's networks, for December.
INSP also produces its own programming, including a new form, a short-form series airing inside presentations of the other shows on the network. The program is called "Old Henry," and it stars "The Waltons" father, actor Ralph Waite, as a man who dealing with aging and caring for his ailing wife.
It's part of INSP's Moments Project (visit moments.org), which provides dramatic programs online to relate to the largest possible audience in exploring themes including family, love and respect.
Needham said any viewers who would want to see local cable systems pick up INSP may contact their local cable providers, or use a form on the INSP website to fill out, which sends a request to the local provider to add the network.
INSP has recently been added to new markets including Chicago and Philadelphia.