I attended the annual convention of the National Religious Broadcasters this past week. Before I continue, let me say that the public policy work that the NRB does is invaluable to Christian communicators and supporters of free speech in America. That alone is worth the membership fees.
But, much of what I have been seeing from Christian broadcasters is not forward thinking. I want to preface this by saying that I think traditional Christian broadcasting still has a place. It’s not dead, but it is literally dying. I give it 10-20 years.
Much of Christian broadcasting funding is accomplished by the model of paid time/donors. Stations sell 30-minute or 1-hour blocks of time to programmers. Programmers ask for money from donors. Donors come from the audience.
My own research and what I’ve read indicates that the audience for the traditional, sermon-based, teaching program is growing older with every year. The last time I pulled the numbers only 35% of the tens of thousands of people who watch the First Orlando TV program are under the age of 50. Many are over 70. Our program is not the exception, it’s the rule. The donor base for the current model of Christian broadcasting is shrinking as the audience is dying.
The research I’ve seen indicates that younger people generally do not consume religious programming. Definitely not at the rate of those over 50, and they do not support it financially like those over 50. The model for Christian broadcasting has to change.
If you read my blog regularly you know I’m developing a Christian sitcom. During the convention I was on the floor and I was talking about my show idea, and one response I got was, “Wow, that’s bold!”
I didn’t say this, but the thought went through head: This shouldn’t be bold. This should be normal. Christians should be developing more sitcoms and dramas, they should be developing episodic content and reality shows.
I know I’ve repeated this quote before, but it bears repeating again, Mark Ramsey asked in a keynote during the 2011 NRB convention, “Are you putting content online in a way that people want, or in a way that is convenient for you?” We can go farther and ask if we are creating content in a way people want, or that’s convenient for us?
18-34 year olds do not watch religious content. They watch episodic content. They prefer contest-reality shows and comedies. What makes anyone think that as these people age they will suddenly start liking worship services on TV? Or religious interview shows?
We produce worship services for TV because it is easy. My church cranks out two shows a week. It’s simpler to bring on a guest and ask them questions than to write a script, cast it, shoot it, and edit it.
But if we want Christian broadcasting to continue, we must change. And we cannot wait until the current model completely fails, we need to start developing different kinds of programming now. That is the future of Christian TV.