Increasing sales, fueled in part by the resources of new owners, have made contemporary Christian music (CCM) one of the hottest market segments. Sales of albums have grown from 31 million in 1996 to 44 million in 2000. Increased sales were an anticipated benefit of the buyouts—from 1992 to 1997, large secular corporations snatched up the industry's major labels. That growth has come at a cost—but not the cost many feared.
"I think the general perception is that a parent secular company comes in and buys the Christian company and will make them water down their Christian message," says Greg Rumburg, former managing editor of CCM magazine. "That's not what has happened."
Instead, industry observers say, the downside has been an unwavering focus on the bottom line. "In many cases, the parent company is saying, 'No, you need to be more Christian,' " Rumburg says. "They understand that the more Christian they are, the more appeal to the [listener], and the more money they make."
Expanding Media Empires
Word Entertainment was the first to go. It was purchased in the 1970s by ABC, which then sold it to Christian publisher Thomas Nelson in 1992. In 1997, Nelson sold it to Gaylord Entertainment (owner of the Grand Ole Opry) for $120 million and finally, after a three-year slide in profitability and creativity, Gaylord sold it for $84 million to the ever-growing AOL/Time Warner empire.
British media giant EMI bought Sparrow Records from founder Billy Ray Hearn's family in 1992. Sparrow became the cornerstone of EMI Christian Music Group, which also includes Forefront, EMI Gospel, and half of Tooth & Nail.
Zomba's Provident Music Group includes Reunion, Essential, and Verity Records and the mammoth Brentwood-Benson publishing operation.1