Getting Your Faith On Demand

With distribution up, religious broadcasters are using alternative platforms to bolster revenue and content quality 2/14/2011 12:01:00 AM Eastern

Our Father, Who Art in 3D
First Commandment: Good Content

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,
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
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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