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From faith to family: Inside BYUtv’s global ambitions

The US network is moving beyond its Mormon roots, finding international opportunities in "clean family entertainment."
April 10, 2019

It may be backed by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but BYUtv wants to make it clear that religion is not its only source of content.

Owned and operated by Provo, Utah-based Brigham Young University, BYUtv began life as a cable channel available on a single satellite provider. It has since ballooned to its current position as an Emmy Award-winning network that reaches 50 million US households across multiple providers, and has made a name for itself as a destination for tweens, teens and parents wanting entertainment the whole family can enjoy.

Mandated by the Mormon Church—the university’s main sponsor organization—to create and deliver positive content that encourages viewers to “see the good in the world,” the ad-free channel’s portfolio is comprised of more than 1,700 hours of original, co-produced and acquired programs.

“Our religious-focused programming is mostly housed within the channel’s Sunday morning and afternoon blocks. The rest of our content is meant to be clean family entertainment,” says content director Andra Duke, who joined the 24/7 channel in 2017 after serving as VP of unscripted production for BBC Worldwide Productions in LA.

Scheduled across 10 categories—kids, family, sports, faith, campus, people, documentary, lifestyle, performing arts and seasonal—BYUtv’s co-viewing content includes scripted dramas and comedies, competition and game shows, TV movies and concerts.

This year, the channel is undergoing a rebrand that began rolling out on March 18. With the new tagline “Together”—representing the channel’s commitment to family connections—as well as a refreshed logo and brand design, BYUtv is looking to expand its presence both in the US and abroad with the help of a big content blitz. (BYUtv’s original/acquired content split currently sits at around 60%/40%.)

New originals joining the 2019 slate include cooking-focused competition series Dinner Takes All, hosted by Food Network celebrity chef Kelsey Nixon and co-produced by Keller/Noll (Chopped, Chopped Junior); musical improv comedy Show Offs starring comedian Casey Jost (Late Night with Jimmy Fallon); and scripted adventure comedy Dwight in Shining ArmorĀ (pictured). At press time, the series are set to debut the week of March 18, and a newly greenlit second season of Dwight in Shining Armor will bow this fall.

Beyond domestic production, the channel has branched out internationally with Just Like Mom and Dad, a primetime game show it co-produced with Toronto’s marblemedia and Canadian broadcaster YES TV that premiered in January 2018.

BYUtv also linked up with marblemedia when it acquired medieval-themed game show Splatalot from the Toronto-based studio’s distribution arm Distribution360 last March. In other acquisitions, BYUtv has a longstanding deal with Disney for a selection of its classic live-action family films from the ’50s to the ’90s, including Miracle and Glory Road. It also recently inked a deal with the BBC.

“One of our best-performing acquisitions is CBBC children’s drama Hetty Feather,” says Duke. “We picked up the first five seasons and just finished airing season four. We also just acquired the Fox game show Are You Smarter than a 5th Grader?, which bowed in January.”

While Duke admits it can be a challenge to find the right types of acquisitions, given its focus on clean content, BYUtv is encouraged by other ways the channel is expanding its business, too.

“In the past year, we’ve been much more outward-facing in terms of working with partners, getting the word out on our content, and sending shows overseas,” she says. “We can’t share numbers, but we have seen a lot of growth, and we expect this to continue across our linear and digital platforms.”

About The Author
Jeremy is the Features Editor of Kidscreen specializing in the content production, broadcasting and distribution aspects of the global children's entertainment industry. Contact Jeremy at jdickson@brunico.com.

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