I go to conferences and hear presenters talk about how we need to change the culture from within, how we can use the system to influence entertainment and our world. And I love that we have more and more Christians in the entertainment business. Christian writers, producers and actors and the rest. These people are making a mark in the industry, but what if we saw a trend in the consumption of media, and could actually lead the industry and distribute quality Christian content to a huge audience?
I have seen Christians do amazing things with movies. Ever since the Passion of The Christ showed studios that a religious movie can make money, the doors have been open. The new funding, production and distribution model that people like Sherwood Baptist and Possibility Pictures has developed over the last few years has caused ripples across the entire movie industry.
I want to talk about TV.
The current pay TV/educational license model in Christian TV is limited in reach, and the donor base is drying up. Younger audiences are not responding to this type of TV.
Quality Christian TV is still shut out of the major networks. We may see the occasional show like Seventh Heaven or Touched by an Angel, but generally there are no TV shows that routinely show characters dealing with real world issues from a biblical perspective.
What if we could change that? What if we could use emerging technology to reach millions?
In 2009 the Wall Street Journal reported that the median age for TV viewers climbed to 50 for the first time in history. (source: The Last TV Evangelist by Phil Cooke, pg 19). More and more people are not choosing network TV as their first screen. Younger people are still consuming media, but they are not limited to TV networks to find it.
Netflix boasts over 20 million subscribers, with huge increases as more and more methods of viewing their content come available.
Well over 40 million people view content on Hulu, and that number keeps growing.
YouTube has over 120 million viewers, watching everything from funny home movie to full length feature films.
Set top Internet TV boxes are becoming more and more popular. The new Apple TV sold 1 million units in less than 4 months.
Roku hit a million boxes sold in 2010 as well, with over $50 million in revenue. Forecasts are that they will reach $100 million in revenue in 2011.
Google TV has hit some roadblocks with content, but I think their issues have to do with how they approach content acquisition. But you can still view Netflix, and the company is reportedly working on a deal with Hulu Plus.
A recent survey by JP Morgan reports that 28% of cable subscribers would consider canceling cable and going with web video. If they already use Netflix to stream video, the number rises to 47%
Who watches TV online?
Lab 42 surveyed 400 people of varying ages and backgrounds who use social media. -slide- Over 72% of those under 34 said they already watch TV shows online. The younger they were the more likely they were to watch TV online. The top 3 services they used to watch TV online: 1. YouTube. 2. Hulu. 3. Netflix. The kind of show they watched most? 45% said episodic TV. Only 3% said they watched religious programs online.
How many social media users are there? Consider Facebook. In 2010 the number of Facebook users grew from 337 million to 585 million. That’s more than 7 new users every second. Of the 585 million, over 428 million are age 34 and younger. 147 million of those are in the US, and over 50% are age 18-34.
Remember 72% of social media users 34 and under watch TV online? If that number holds true worldwide, there 308 million people in the world who already watch TV online, and over 53 million 18-34 year olds in the US who already watch TV online. Even if you discount all of these numbers, it is obvious that there is a huge trend among younger audiences to watch TV online. Millions and millions of people make up a huge potential audience.
Television broadcasting is in the middle of the largest shift in content delivery since cable was invented. In the next few year we will see the Internet become the primary source for video consumption. Networks are scrambling to figure out how to stay profitable.
With the shift in how people get content, there will no longer be network locks at every door.
Now is the time to use new methods of delivery for quality episodic Christian content. We can bypass the network gatekeepers, and create a new funding model for TV. (Not just Christian TV, but all TV) We can bypass the networks, and make content available to millions and millions of people. We can create shows and distribute them directly on services like Netflix and Hulu, or through YouTube, or any other web video outlet.
For this to work you need three things-
Show– Above all the show has to be good. Period. The model only works if people want to watch it more than once. If you don’t have the right show, stop and go home. This is the first and most important factor in success.
Tech– We have to use every method possible, every avenue available to deliver content. Netflix, Hulu, YouTube, Vimeo, or whatever. This model of Christian TV production is only possible because of the shift in tech. The cost of production keeps falling, and we can use advances in technology to produce great looking shows for a fraction of the cost of traditional network shows.
Marketing– We have to cut through the noise. Without the networks to filter content, and serve as a point of consumption, show producers must figure out how to stand out in the crowd, how to get watched. And because the new media revolution is interactive, social media will be a huge part of that. We must use every means to get people to watch the show, and empower them to share the show with others, recommending it within their own spheres of influence. Video diaries, highlights, contests, online chats with actors, fan pages, all disseminated through social media. This approach, combined with a traditional media campaign, can create a growing ground swell of viewers. The more viewers, the easier it is to get sponsors. The more sponsors, the more shows we can produce.
So, that’s the model: distribute an episodic show through online video channels with significant interaction with audience. I’m positive I’m not the only person thinking along these lines. This isn’t rocket science, the future of TV is coming our way and it will be hard to miss. I’m sure things will have to be tweaked, and there’s definitely stuff I’ve missed. This is not a perfect plan. And as the world keeps shifting, things will have to be adjusted. But this can work. And we have to try it. We cannot let this chance pass us by.
So what’s the next step? I need to find a show idea. Something that appeals to 18-34 year olds. It needs to be Christian, but not sappy. Fiction or reality show, it needs to appeal to non religious people. Something that shows real people in real situations reacting to life from a biblical perspective. From a budget perspective, reality TV may be more feasible, and those shows seem popular with young adults.
I am still going to be a church media pastor. I will still be working at my job for the knowable future, and this is a spare time project. And then it takes a lot of work… It will only work if God is in it, because I know I don’t have the knowledge, or the capability to do it on my own. It probably won’t happen fast, but it can happen.