Faith-Based Networks Preach the Multi-Platform Gospel

Digital is key to expanding, redefining religious brands 10/04/2010 06:49:00 AM Eastern

In recent years, faith-based
networks, like their secular counterparts,
have embraced a multi-platform
approach to their programming by
including VOD, mobile apps and Web
series as part of their business strategy.
But religious networks also face the challenge
of preserving a distinct spiritual
message while embracing the new-media
outlets. Welcome to Faith 2.0.

Faith-based programmers are finding
success with the multi-platform
approach, according to Craig Parshall,
senior VP and general counsel for National
Religious Broadcasters (NRB), an
organization representing 1,700 faithbased
broadcasters on TV and radio.

“You have to be on multiple platforms—
wherever there are eyeballs, you
have to be,” Parshall says. “If not, you’re missing a
much larger audience. It helps everything you do
and lifts the number of people who are exposed
to your message. We’re not turning back.”

Larger networks, like the Christian Broadcasting
Network (CBN), are reaping more than the
spiritual benefits of that exposure. According to
CEO Gordon Robertson, since CBN launched
700 Club Interactive—a Web iteration of the flagship
news talker where viewers can interact via
Skype, chat and e-mail with the host—in June
2009, The 700 Club on ABC Family has seen a
7% increase in viewership. 700 Club Interactive
also saw a 33% Nielsen increase year-to-year in
September, and was up 20% from the second
quarter to 4 million views in the third quarter
for VOD on “We found a strong correlation
with the main host interacting with our
audience on Skype, and our growth from a [television]
ratings standpoint,” Robertson says.

As a result of its multi-platform success, CBN
plans to relaunch its hit 1980s animation franchise
Superbook in fall 2011 as a CGI series. A new
interactive Website to accompany the redesigned
show is already up and running, and includes social
networking features, games and contests for
kids. Since the launch of in November
2009, the site has received 4.4 million page
views, averaging 435,000 each month—making
up nearly 10% of’s page views.

Faith-based FamilyNet is expanding multi-platform
programming through television, radio and
the Internet through a simultaneous broadcast, or
“MegaCast,” as dubbed by the network, of FamilyNet
Radio programs. The first MegaCast was
broadcast Oct. 4 with The Kevin McCullough Show.

As a result of these brand extensions, says
FamilyNet CEO Chris Wyatt, who also helped
found social network and video platform God-, the network has added millions in
revenue to its bottom line, has shortened its rate
of investment (ROI) timeline by 70%, and has increased viewership by 40% in the
past year. Wyatt largely credits this to
the network’s programming transitions
from a 50-64 demo to a 35-49 demo.

Wyatt says that a multi-platform
strategy has become part of the brand’s
identity. “We are not only a faith-based
broadcaster, we’re also a technology
firm,” he explains, citing the development
of a new mobile app, nextgeneration
video technologies and the
launch of a revamped “GodTube on
steroids” as upcoming projects. “Without
our multi-platform strategies, we
would have to rely solely on our television
and radio platforms. As a result,
we would not be profitable.”

Smaller networks, however, like Boston-based
CatholicTV, are simply grateful for the increase
in exposure and ability to get their message out.
The recent launches of the network’s iPhone app
and video widget, CatholicTVjr, have expanded
its brand awareness to parishes and dioceses
across the country—and even to users in India.

“It’s given us some awareness of who’s watching.”
says Bonnie Rodgers, CatholicTV’s director
of marketing and programming. “The way [nonsubscribers]
can see us is through the Internet,
but they wouldn’t know to go look for us. So,
being on a diocese’s Website generates some
interest and awareness in CatholicTV that we
would not have otherwise gotten.”

And with the Sept. 23 launch of the social
community, the net has also
gained the confidence to start thinking big. “Our
growth since introducing digital media has been
more anecdotal than quantifiable, but [that medium] puts us out there for providers and generates
interest,” Rodgers explains. “Our goal now
is to be launched on all major cable and satellite
carriers, and to provide as much Catholic programming
in the U.S. as possible.”

Inspiration Networks has redefined its brands
along a “multi-generational, multi-platform
strategy,” according to John Roos, senior VP of
corporate communications and research at the
network. Inspiration targeted the hard-to-reach
youth demographic with last October’s launch
of Halogen, a channel that emphasizes entertainment
and lifestyles rather than religion, and is
aimed at 18-to-34-year-old viewers who want to
make a difference with their lives.

Halogen defines itself as multi-platform, rather
than just a television network. Though it first
launched as only a linear channel and Website,
Halogen has extended its brand over the past
year to a Halogen on Demand VOD platform; a
robust social-media presence on Twitter, Facebook
and YouTube; and its own online community
and feedback platform, Halogen Insiders.
According to Kristina Hill, media relations
manager for Inspiration, Halogen’s presence and
focus on social media contributed to its recent
launch on the AT&T U-verse channel lineup. As
of August, Halogen’s availability was up almost
20%, reaching nearly 14 million households nationwide.
Next, the network plans to go mobile.

Sometimes, digital platforms can also be used
as a means to highlight content that didn’t make
a splash on the small screen. Inspiration’s reality
drama The Uprising, part of its Steelroots block,
failed to draw a significant telecast audience in
its first season, so Inspiration chose to relegate
it—and the rest of Steelroots’ content—to the
Web instead of killing it all together.

“Steelroots content was placed online because
this is where the target audience is, and this is
how they view content,” Hill says. “This strategy
has resulted in increasing Web traffic for the platform.”
In recent weeks, also began
streaming monthly live concerts and plans to
launch a new Web drama called Next in November.

Shalom TV, a Jewish cable television network
that airs in 40 million homes, is also harnessing
the power of new technology to bolster itself as a source for Jewish perspectives on news and
current events. According to CEO Rabbi Mark
S. Golub, the network is “putting the finishing
touches” on a Shalom TV server that immediately
transmits news to myriad subscribing
Websites, as well as making video available to
the Jerusalem Post, Jewish Telegraphic Agency, and other news partners.

However, Golub says Shalom TV is aware that
some viewers may not adapt to new technology
so easily. “We are also conscious that a number
of Shalom TV viewers may be pressing the On
Demand button on their cable remote for the
very first time,” he says. “So, we’ve outfi tted our
Website with an entire page that introduces On
Demand to novice users, with step-by-step instructions
and screenshots designed to demystify
the technology for our audience.”

But beyond the hurdles of transitioning from
traditional to new media, NRB’s Parshall says that
Christian broadcasters must deal with another
challenge that the mainstream broadcasters don’t.

“Connectivity and interactivity in our media
platforms are crucial, but only if at the end of the
day what has been transmitted [old-fashioned
content] is transcendent truth,” he says. “If the
medium distorts that message, it has to be rejected.
Right now, we at NRB are concerned about
being future-thinking in terms of 21st century
religious liberty at the crossroads of a technological
revolution. Things are changing so fast that
we can’t afford to ‘catch the wave’ when it hits
us—we have to be way ahead of the wave.”


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