Getting Your Faith On Demand
With distribution up, religious broadcasters are using alternative platforms to bolster revenue and content quality
By Andrea Domanick -- Broadcasting & Cable, 2/14/2011 12:01:00 AM
Thanks to mobile apps, VOD and online streaming, many faith-based broadcasters have enjoyed unprecedented growth in viewership and distribution in the last year. With these multiplatform strategies now firmly in place, the networks have moved on to the next phase: looking past alternative platforms as a way to enhance distribution and using them now to build new revenue models and focus on enhancing content.
When The Jewish Channel (TJC) launched in 2008 as subscription VOD (SVOD), CEO Elie Singer was initially reluctant to embrace the platform due to a lack of interest from MSOs. Today, however, Singer describes SVOD as TJC’s bread and butter.
“SVOD has allowed us to be more daring in our programming, because we’re not programming for any one plurality,” Singer says. “Sure, there are the rare programs that nearly every single viewer watches, but we’re able to target each distinct 10% or 20% and give them exactly what they want to watch, available for them to view any time they want.”
As a result, TJC’s distribution is set to triple by the end of March, which has in turn attracted new capital. “The challenge for us lies in continuing to develop creative new content that will draw new subscribers in, and committing to the advertising spending to get the word out that we’ve come to new markets,” Singer says.
TJC has already signed multi-year agreements to advertise heavily in local markets in 2011 and 2012, and it plans to use social networking tools to aggressively complement its ad spending.
For-profit broadcaster FamilyNet, meanwhile, is harnessing mobile to boost a different kind of capital—donations to the ministries it depends on as buy-on clients. The network recently launched its Text4Faith service to complement the many platforms through which audiences enjoy FamilyNet’s content. Similar to the textdonation service set up by the Red Cross following last year’s earthquake in Haiti, the service allows audiences to make donations from their cell phones, directing 95% of revenue back to the ministries and sidestepping the 40% cut typically taken by mobile carriers.
“We’re taking a mobile back-end and implementing it beyond that,” says Chris Wyatt, FamilyNet CEO. “It gives the ministry the ability to have a direct relationship with that donor.”
Similarly, The Word Network is utilizing new technologies to get feedback from its ministries and financially support the communities it serves.
“By incorporating mobile apps and social media, we can connect with the charities behind many of our churches and bring in sponsors to their events,” says John Mattiello, TWN director of marketing and affiliate relations.
Paul Crouch Jr., chief of staff for non-profit Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN), has also found this multiplatform approach to be a financial savior for donation-dependent broadcasters. “If we were strictly relying on a broadcast model, on only people who watch over the air, we would have no donations. But because we’re staying with new technology and cross-platforming, we’re continuing to climb donation-wise,” Crouch says, citing TBN’s mobile apps as key to this growth.
With donations up and distribution costs down, the real issue, Crouch says, will be attracting more viewers through higher-quality content. “Content is going to be king. More so than production technology will be the quality, the relevance,” he says.
Some networks, like Shalom TV, are harnessing the momentum of their multiplatform expansion to produce content that will attract younger viewers—a demo faith-based networks have struggled to draw. “In many ways, our advance into the Web has been driven by the prospect of attracting viewers in their 20s and 30s [and]young Jewish families,” says Bradford Hammer, Shalom TV COO. Recently, the channel launched the music and culture series Jewish NYC and is wrapping the first season of “mockumentary” dating series From Date to Mate.
Similarly, Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN) CEO Gordon Robertson is preparing to launch the animated series Superbook this fall, CBN’s first foray into children’s programming in decades. “With multiplatform, we have the distribution,” Robertson says. “Now we have to make the content as attractive as possible to bring in the audience we don’t have.”
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