Preaching to the Younger Choir

Religious channels look for a youthful infusion of viewers through affiliate networks, programs, social media

There is a sentiment that religious
TV is for the AARP crowd. Whether
it’s largely true or not, it’s a perception
faith-based programmers are looking to change.
Much like the broadcast networks fight over
young viewers, religious and faith-based nets are
looking to grab that same piece of the pie.

JCTV, the newest in TBN’s family of faithbased
networks, was launched in April specifically geared toward younger audiences. The
new affiliate net features contemporary music
videos, teen talk and reality shows, movies and
extreme sports. “Its high-energy format draws
young adults, while also offering them a rare
oasis of hope and inspiration,” says Bob Higley,
VP, affiliate sales & marketing, TBN Networks.
“We know that about one in three teens say
their faith is important to them. JCTV is the
only channel that consistently speaks to that
substantial and unique demographic.”

Along with JCTV, TBN in September launched
its iTBN service, which plays like a Christian version
of Hulu or Netflix. “All of our networks—
TBN, Church Channel, JCTV, Smile of a Child
and [TBN’s Spanish-language channel] Enlace—
have content they are putting into iTBN,” says
Higley. “There is 10,000 hours already loaded.”

While explaining that catering to the younger
demo is not the sole reason for iTBN, Higley adds
that this desire played a role, also noting that those
viewers tend to prefer a multiplatform viewing experience.
“Obviously, [there is] a younger generation
that is using online and TV Everywhere-type
devices to view television,” he says.

National Religious Broadcasters, which represents
a consortium of commercial and non-commercial
stations, has developed iPhone apps for
many of the member stations’ programming. “We
have found that to be pretty successful,” says Craig
Parshall, NRB senior VP and general counsel.

Instead of simply airing their slate of shows at
times when younger viewers might be more apt
to find them, some faith-based networks have
more proactively developed programming specifically geared toward that audience.

Christian Broadcasting Network, one of the
NRB’s non-profit members, has One Cubed, an
international Christian music video show produced
in multiple languages. CBN CEO Gordon
Robertson explains that while trying to secure the
teen and young adult audience, CBN is making
a strong push to get younger children to watch
as well. In November, CBN will debut Superbook
(originally a 1980s cartoon developed in Japan),
which tells stories of the Bible in a Japanese anime
format, airing on Sundays. Superbook currently is
slated for 26 episodes, but Robertson says “our
goal is to take it out to [a higher number]” and
hopes for a full two years of weekly shows.

Shalom TV, which does not describe itself as a
religious net per se but as a channel dedicated to
promoting Jewish heritage, has an entire programming
lineup geared toward the young adult demo.

“There is a language, a way of speaking and relating
to each other in the world, that is unique to
each generation,” says Rabbi Mark Golub, CEO
of Shalom TV. “The challenge that [the network]
faces is how do we tap into the interests that drive
young people’s attention to life experiences?”

The network launched a mock-reality series,
From Date to Mate, which follows eight Jewish
singles (four guys, four girls) as they navigate the
New York dating scene. “It has created an enormous
following,” says Golub. Jewish NYC, meanwhile,
looks at young Jewish culture. “Music, art,
a lot of rap is featured,” says Golub. Another series,
Defenders (Lohamim, in Hebrew), features Shalom
TV’s Eilat Feller visiting with different Israel Defense
Force units, interviewing the young military
personnel and even training alongside them.

One thing all the religious networks share
is the realization that it’s next to impossible to
bring in younger viewers without social media.
Shalom TV created individual Facebook profiles
for the characters on From Date to Mate, even
having someone interact with users under the
guise of each person. “There’s so much opportunity
with social media, and we’re just now
beginning to tap in,” says Golub.

As Golub puts it, it comes down to relating
to the younger generations. “When they their
interests on television, they will watch.”

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