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Christian Broadcasters Seek Better Ways to Reach the Flock

NRB meeting to highlight new media, leadership issues, free speech debate 2/13/2012 12:01:00 AM Eastern

As religious broadcasters descend on Nashville,
Tenn., this week for the National Religious Broadcasters
convention that begins Feb. 18, one of the hot topics at the
annual confab will be how to spread the Christian message to the
widest possible audience.

With most trade shows, there is
often a theme that highlights the
important issues for that particular
year. For the NRB meeting, however,
Craig Parshall, the organization’s
senior VP and general counsel, said
that tying it down to one singular
theme can be problematic. “The
years that we’ve picked a theme,
we find that it’s hard to [pin] one
down,” said Parshall. “We’ve abandoned
a single-theme focus because
there is just so much going on.”

Even so, Parshall explained that
“making sure we’re really on
the cutting edge of a very fast
and rapidly changing media
landscape,” is one of the main
goals for this year’s convention.
Michael Little, president
and COO of the Christian
Broadcasting Network, one of
the NRB’s non-profit members,
agreed. “Digital media is one of
the exciting frontiers for all of
us involved in using the media
to connect with a mass audience,”
Little said.

Toward that end, Parshall
said there will be “at least 20
different educational sessions
specifically dealing with the
interaction between so-called old media technology [TV, radio] and
new media platforms [including] Facebook, Twitter, new Google applications
and things like that.”

The folks at CBN have already embraced the multiplatform lifestyle.
And CBN will receive the NRB’s “Best Broadcast Website Award”
during the show’s awards dinner Feb. 21. “CBN.com has content
touching virtually every facet of life,” said Frank Wright, NRB president
& CEO. “Everyone visiting their site is able to find something to
minister to them in their specific situation and life stage.”

“The volume of our users [CBN.com averages 1.7 million unique
visitors per month] is an indication that we are doing a lot of things
right,” said Little. CBN is also in the process of developing mobile
apps in an effort to reach
younger viewers.

CBN will also receive the
NRB “Milestone Award” to
honor a history that spans
more than 50 years.

One of the scheduled
presenters during the convention, film producer Phil
Cooke, will lead an all-day
seminar Feb. 17, the day before
the convention opens,
on developing content for
online, mobile and broadcast
platforms. Cooke, who is
president and creative director
for Cooke Pictures, will
partner with TV Magic on
the seminar, which will feature
presentations by Steve
Rosen, TV Magic founder
and CEO, as well as Paul
Crouch Jr., media consultant
and former Trinity Broadcasting
Network executive.

With the convention putting
a big emphasis on finding
the best way for religious
broadcasters to deliver their
message, another hot topic will be who exactly is receiving that message.
Cooke’s presentation will cover, among other things, the question
“Are You Creating a Media Ministry or a Media Myth?” and look
into who exactly uses Christian media.

The Center for Bible Engagement—a division of the Back to the
Bible ministry that focuses on Bible illiteracy and Bible engagement—
conducted a study last year of 1,000 American teens and adults to
break down who exactly uses Christian media, what drives their
choices and what they would like to see.

Among the more notable findings in the report is that 36% of non-
Christians use Christian media at least a few times a year. When all
Americans—regardless of their beliefs—in the sample were surveyed, that number jumped to 61%. According
to the report, “Of all Christian
media users in the sample, one-fifth
(22%) do not identify with the Christian
faith.”

Cooke will also look to dispel what
he calls the “myth that television is
dead.” A recent report by Nielsen and
The Wall Street Journal indicated that
broadcast TV lost 1.2 million viewers
in the last year, but Cooke noted
that the report also stated that ad
rates went up by 17%. “People need
to recognize that broadcast still is really
a viable medium” for reaching a
particular audience, Cooke said.

Leadership workshops are also a
big-ticket subject at the annual NRB
confab. This year, one of the speakers
Parshall is particularly looking forward to is Doug Lipp, former
head of training at Walt Disney Co.’s corporate headquarters (“Disney
University”), who is now president/CEO of G. Douglas Lipp & Associates.
Lipp’s “innovative thought process and insights on leadership will
challenge and encourage all attendees,” Wright said in a statement.

Michael Hyatt, chairman of Thomas Nelson Publishers, will also be
offering leadership presentations, as will Cooke. “Most organizations
misunderstand the concept of a leadership team,” said Cooke. “Too many organizations advocate the decision-making role of the leader
to their team.”

Another popular mainstay of the NRB convention is the public
policy debate. This year’s debate will focus on free speech attacks
against Christians under the guise of battling “hate” and promoting
diversity. “Do hate labels, hate categories, hate speech regulations,
forced diversity codes in universities help or hinder free speech?” said
Parshall, who will be one of the fi ve panelists during the debate, to
be led by his wife, syndicated radio host Janet Parshall.

It’s an important issue facing Christian
broadcasters, said Little, especially since new
media platforms such as Facebook and iTunes
are censoring some religious content because
it is deemed “hateful.” “Our concern is the
level of access to the media,” said Little.

A new aspect of this year’s NRB will be
“Zoom Lunches” events held in between some
of the general sessions (which have more than
one speaker). The Zoom events are for the
attendees to be able to gather and “facilitate
conversation guided to digest what they’ve
heard” and figure out how to tie that to each
individual’s company. “I think it’s going to be
a welcome change,” said Craig Parshall. It’s
also a chance for Christian broadcasters to network and catch up with
acquaintances that they don’t get to see too often.

For some, that alone is worth the price of admission to the event.
“We go to the NRB primarily to network, and see contacts that we
only communicate with by phone or the Internet,” said Little. “We
get to see them.”

E-mail comments to tim.baysinger@gmail.com
and follow him on Twitter: @tim_bays

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