The Christian Broadcasting Network, Inc.
The Christian Broadcasting Network, Inc.
Operating Revenues: $204.9 million (2001)
NAIC: 513120 Television Broadcasting; 513220 Cable and Other Program Distribution; 512110 Video Production; 813110 Religious Organizations
The Christian Broadcasting Network, Inc. (CBN) is a nonprofit organization devoted to spreading the Christian Gospel internationally through mass media, education, and humanitarian efforts. Founded by Pat Robertson, the network grew from a single UHF station to a cable and satellite broadcaster with programming seen in 166 countries and broadcast in more than 70 languages. Its flagship program, The 700 Club, is seen by more than one million viewers in the United States, and international editions are seen throughout the world.
Establishment of Christian Broadcasting Network: 1960s
The Christian Broadcasting Network, Inc. was established in January 1960 by Pat Robertson. The network began with a single station in Portsmouth, Virginia. At the time Robertson took over the station, it was a defunct UHF station with barely enough power to transmit across Portsmouth’s city limits. Robertson renamed the station WYAH-TV after Yahweh, the Hebrew name for God, and began broadcasting on October 1, 1961.
CBN received a modest income from a few local supporters. When it first went on the air, WYAH-TV broadcast half-hour programs from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. every night. The station gradually expanded its broadcast day from 5 p.m. to midnight. It refused to accept commercial advertisements and was unable to pay for programming.
CBN conducted its first telethon to raise money in the fall of 1963. Its goal was to raise enough money to cover the station’s $7,000-a-month operating expenses for 1964. Robertson asked the telethon’s viewers to contribute $10 a month, saying that a club of 700 supporters was all that was needed to meet the station’s needs. The telethon included guests who sang and shared their religious experiences. During the telethon Robertson asked viewers to pray for the 700 supporters needed to keep CBN on the air. Although CBN continued to struggle financially, the telethon established the basis for a community of supporters.
The 1964 700 Club telethon was more successful and marked a turning point in CBN’s financial well-being. As the telethon was broadcast, it generated more funds than the previous year but not enough to cover CBN’s growing budget. In the final minutes of the telethon, it appeared that a spiritual revival took hold of the viewing audience, and throughout the next several days CBN received a flood of prayer requests and financial support.
In 1965 Robertson incorporated the telethon’s fundraising into a program that he named The 700 Club. The program included prayer and ministry along with requests for telephone support. As other stations began to carry the program, its audience grew.
CBN’s financial growth in the 1960s enabled it to renovate its broadcast facility in Portsmouth and boost the station’s transmission power. CBN began full-color television production and acquired six radio stations in the United States and one in Colombia, South America.
Audience Growth Through Cable Television and International Initiatives: 1970s
CBN began to reach an international audience in 1976 when its first international broadcast was heard in the Philippines. The broadcast included daily transmissions of The 700 Club. Around this time CBN was able to purchase 142 acres of land in Virginia Beach, Virginia, and build a new studio headquarters building. In 1977 CBN launched CBN Cable, the first basic TV cable network with satellite transmissions of religious and syndicated family shows. The satellite earth station at the CBN Center in Virginia Beach made possible the first satellite broadcast from Jerusalem. Satellite capability also provided for the live delivery of The 700 Club, which allowed CBN to pioneer interactive Christian television through telephone contact with its viewing audience. CBN soon began 24-hour Christian programming via satellite with a mix of religious and syndicated family shows. It also expanded its international broadcasts to the Far East, Canada, South America, Mexico, Africa, and Europe. Within the United States, CBN acquired television stations in Dallas, Atlanta, and Boston.
Another international effort, Operation Blessing International Relief and Development Corporation, was begun in 1978. An affiliate organization of CBN, it was established to help disadvantaged people. The organization matched their needs for clothing, appliances, vehicles, and other items with articles donated by the viewers of The 700 Club. CBN’s financial commitment to Operation Blessing International reached $1 million by 1982.
Expanding CBN’s Audience Through Mass Media: 1980s
By 1981 CBN Cable reached ten million American homes. The cable network prospered during the 1980s and was renamed the CBN Family Channel in 1988. In 1990 the cable network was sold to International Family Entertainment, Inc. IFE was subsequently sold to Fox Kids Worldwide, Inc., which sold the Fox Family Channel to The Walt Disney Company. The cable channel was renamed ABC Family in November 2001.
During the 1980s The 700 Club changed its format to become a news magazine program. The show was hosted by Pat Robertson, Terry Meeuwsen, Lisa Ryan, and Gordon Robertson. It opened a news bureau in Washington, D.C. CBN also began producing animation programs with religious themes including Superbook, an animated series of Bible stories. When Don’t Ask Me, Ask God aired, it was the most-watched religious special in television broadcasting history. Another program, Never Say Goodbye, was produced for CBS and received an Emmy Award.
Internationally, CBN launched the Middle East Television Network (METV) in 1982. It began broadcasting from South Lebanon in April 1982 and also had operations in Israel. In the 1990s the station began broadcasting news, sports, family entertainment, and religious programming via satellite. Over the next two decades METV expanded its satellite programming to a potential audience of 200 million people in 15 Middle Eastern nations.
Expanding the Company’s International Outreach: 1990s
During the 1990s CBN expanded its international broadcasting efforts, so that by 2000 international editions of The 700 Club and other CBN programs could be seen in more than 180 countries. CBN programs were broadcast in more than 70 languages.
In 1990 CBN began targeting the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), formerly the Soviet Union. It broadcast primetime specials followed by The 700 Club and Superbook. Rallies were held throughout the CIS following the broadcasts, and as a result some 190 churches were established there. Similar special projects were conducted in the Philippines and Romania in 1994, the same year that CBN Asia was launched. CBN Asia featured a local version of The 700 Club hosted by Gordon Robertson and Filipino cohost Coney Reyes. The program ranked as one of the top Christian programs in the Philippines and was broadcast from CBN Asia’s studios in Manila. CBN programs aired via satellite from Manila were also seen in India, Japan, Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia, Myanmar, and Hawaii. In India, a locally produced 700 Club India began airing in the fall of 1998 and was hosted by Dr. Roy Varghese.
CBN WorldReach was launched in the fall of 1995. Its goal was to reach the world’s population of three billion people with messages from the Christian Gospel. To reach a wider audience more effectively, CBN WorldReach employed the technique of media blitzes, which saturated selected regions over concentrated periods of time. Media blitzes used all available forms of media, including television programming, radio shows, videotapes, literature, and other formats. In many cases programs for the media blitzes were produced locally by production teams of CBN International. Blitz television programming typically used a mix of original made-for-TV movies, uplifting docudramas, music and sports specials, and children’s animation. Especially successful media blitzes were conducted in Nigeria, Cameroon, and Brazil.
CBN WorldReach typically partnered with local Christian ministries to maximize its impact. During the 1990s and into the early part of the 21st century, CBN WorldReach launched more than 200 WorldReach Centers in nine regions of the world: Latin America, Africa, Europe, Middle East, India, Europe, Southeast Asia, China, and the CIS. Each WorldReach Center spread the Gospel through a combination of media, disci-pleship, cell church planting, and humanitarian relief efforts. Through 2002 CBN WorldReach claimed to have converted 92 million people to Christianity since its launch in 1995.
The mission of CBN and its affiliated organizations is to prepare the United States of America and the nations of the world for the coming of Jesus Christ and the establishment of the Kingdom of God on earth. Our ultimate goal is to achieve a time in history when “the knowledge of the Lord will cover the earth as the waters cover the sea.”
In achieving our mission our chief method is the strategic use of all forms of mass communication and the conduct of education that will train the young and old to understand how the principles of the Kingdom of God relate to those spheres of human endeavor that play a dominant role in our world.
Middle East Television (METV) also expanded during the 1990s. In 1997 it began 24-hour satellite broadcasts, and its broadcasts were also seen on all cable systems in Israel. As a result, METV could be seen by a potential audience of 70 million viewers throughout the Middle East. In May 1999 METV began looking for a new broadcast facility, as Israel prepared to with-draw from Southern Lebanon. In May 2000 METV completed construction of a new station and began broadcasting from Cyprus. In April 2001 CBN sold METV to LeSEA Broadcasting, a like-minded organization that was committed to keeping METV on the air to spread the Christian Gospel.
Operation Blessing International (OBI) expanded its humanitarian efforts during the 1990s. In 1992 OBI established the Hunger Strike Force, which included a fleet of refrigerated tractor-trailer trucks that hauled millions of pounds of food and disaster relief across the United States. OBI also purchased and retrofitted an airplane into a flying hospital. The Flying Hospital flew its first mission into El Salvador in 1996. It was sold in 2000 to a charitable nonprofit organization but continued to remain an integral part of OBI’s evangelical missions.
Entering New Millennium with 40 Years of Experience
CBN moved aggressively into the 21st century as an experienced television broadcaster and programming producer that enjoyed global distribution. It also had a high level of direct interaction with its viewers through mail, telephone responses, and its web site at www.cbn.com.
CBN’s flagship program continued to be The 700 Club, hosted by Pat Robertson along with cohosts Terry Meeuwsen, Gordon Robertson, Lisa Ryan, Kristi Watts, and CBN news anchor Lee Webb. The daily program reached an average of one million U.S. viewers. 700 Club Sundays was broadcast on weekends and compiled segments from the previous week’s programs. International editions of The 700 Club were broadcast in many languages and countries, including India, Indonesia, Thailand, the CIS, the Middle East, and in Spanish-speaking regions.
Operation Blessing International continued CBN’s international humanitarian efforts. During 2001 it received $51.7 million worth of food, clothing, cleaning supplies, toys, and other items from corporations and product donors. Its Hunger Strike Force delivered 56 million pounds of food in the United States and other countries as well as 11 million pounds of disaster relief supplies to countries such as Mozambique and El Salvador. Other projects conducted by OBI included medical missions that provided eye care abroad; Holiday of Hope outreaches that distributed Bibles, blankets, food, and toys in the United States and abroad; Hope Works programs that expanded job training to the unemployed in the United States and Central and South America; and Bless-A-Child and Back-to-School projects.
CBN Animation continued to produce award-winning features and programs. Through 2001 it had produced 113 original evangelistic specials. In 2001 it won awards for Best Children’s Program, Best Animated Program, and Best Use of Computer Animation from Axiem, Telly, and Omni International. CBN Animation also participated in the Daytime Emmy Awards for the first time in 2001.
Like other nonprofit organizations, CBN faced a difficult economic climate in 2001. In March 2001 it laid off 50 workers at its Virginia Beach office, most of them in television production. In addition some network production activities were reassigned to new CBN television studios in Kiev, Ukraine; Manila, Philippines; Jakarta, Indonesia; and Hyderabad, India.
CBN’s net assets declined in 2001 by some $40 million from 2000, and its revenue declined from $217.8 million in 2000 to $204.9 million in 2001. Approximately three-fourths of CBN’s revenue came from ministry support, with nearly one-quarter from gifts in kind and about $2 million in investment income and other revenue.
Principal Operating Units
CBN Animation; CBN International; CBN WorldReach; Operation Blessing International.
- Pat Robertson founds The Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN) with a defunct Portsmouth, Virginia, television station.
- CBN begins broadcasting from WYAH-TV in Portsmouth.
- CBN conducts its first telethon to raise $7,000, with Pat Robertson requesting 700 supporters give $10 a month.
- The 700 Club program is added to the end of CBN’s broadcast day.
- CBN’s first international broadcast is heard daily in the Philippines.
- CBN launches the first basic TV cable network with satellite transmissions of religious and syndicated family shows.
- Operation Blessing International Relief and Development Corporation, an affiliate organization, is established to help disadvantaged people.
- CBN launches Middle East Television Network (METV) in Lebanon and Israel.
- CBN Cable is renamed the CBN Family Channel.
- The CBN Family Channel is sold to International Family Entertainment, Inc.
- CBN Asia is launched.
- CBN WorldReach is launched.
- METV begins satellite broadcasts over the entire Middle East region.
- METV is sold to LeSEA Broadcasting.
“’The American Whey’ Promo Raises Eyebrows,” Christian Century, October 13, 1993, p. 972.
“Christian Broadcasting Network to Cut 50 Jobs in Virginia Beach, Va.,” Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News, March 24, 2001.
Conn, Joseph L., “Render Unto Caesar,” Church & State, May 1998, p. 4.
Edsall, Thomas B., “Christian Network to Pay 1RS Fine,” Washington Post, March 21, 1998, p. A01.
Garrett, Lynn, “Launching ‘The Book,’” Publishers Weekly, April 12, 1999, p. 38.
Kustanowitz, Shully, “Christian Network and Israel Ink Pact,” Travel Weekly, August 8, 1991, p. 36.
—David P. Bianco