The three-month-old American Christian Television System (ACTS) is making inroads into a crowded cable television market. With more than one million subscribers, some of the system’s marketing practices are drawing fire from a larger, more established religious network.

ACTS was conceived and developed by the 14-million-member Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). SBC members—mobilized in a grassroots marketing thrust—are telling local cable operators that ACTS is the best choice for their communities. Cable system operators often choose only one network that offers religious programming. When they choose ACTS, it is often at the expense of another religious network.

“We are not pleased with the way local ACTS boards have approached the cable companies, given them inaccurate portrayals of who we are, and construed themselves as an ‘answer’ to Christian television,” says Jack Hightower, marketing director for the PTL network.

Hightower says the ACTS marketing effort is “a powerful political machine” that goes beyond healthy competition. “PTL, CBN, and Trinity Broadcasting Network have for years vied in the marketplace with limited channel capacity,” he says. “Because of this, sometimes one or two [religious] networks will win and the other be left out in the cold. But we have never gone to a cable operator and said, ‘Kick them off and put us on.’ This is what some local ACTS boards have done.”

ACTS representatives admit to some early marketing mistakes. But for the most part, they say PTL is overreacting. “There is no discussion of who is already on the system or who needs to be kicked off,” says Lloyd Hart, national cable affiliate manager for ACTS. “It would only hurt us to force our way onto a cable system.”

“The enthusiasm on ...

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