Churches Should Produce Non Traditional Religious Programming

MY showI used to work for a church that has been on the air with a traditional TV program for over 5 decades. In the Orlando metroplex, they reach about 100,000 viewers per week with their Christian program. It consists of a song or two from the service, and the message from the pastor. It is a fairly traditional church television program. When I was on staff a few years ago and had access to the data, I saw that we were reaching a predominately older crowd (75% of viewers were over age 55.) It was, and still is, a good work and it ministers to a lot of people in central Florida.

And because of the nature of non profit educational license religious channels and networks, there will always be a need for preaching/teaching shows in Christian TV. But those shows will continue to reach older, religious audiences. And will continue to not reach younger ones.

What if you took the money used to produce the program and buy airtime, and used it to produce programming that appeals to younger audiences? The churches I’ve worked for with TV programs spent between $30,000 and $250,000 on airtime purchases every year. Plus they had one or more staff people who were primarily focused on producing the content for the program every week. Conservatively estimating salary, taxes, insurance, etc… let’s say $50,000 annually.  That’s quite a bit of money in the indie production world.

What if you invested that money into creating video content that reflected a biblical world view, but wasn’t a traditional worship service/preaching program? What if it was something that told a story and, like a parable, taught truth at the same time?

Who would it be for?

People who don’t watch traditional religious programming. More specifically, find a target demographic in a group pf potential audiences members that don’t already consume traditional religious programming.

According to Pew Research, Older Americans watch more religious TV. Younger Americans are engaging in religious content online.

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Young audiences watch a lot of video content. 18-24 year olds still watch over 16 hours of TV per week, but that number is declining. The TV that they do watch is not traditional Christian TV programming. And they are increasingly watching video online. The older the demographic is, the more broadcast TV they watch.

We don’t need shows that target the 65 year old Christian, we already have those. We need churches to develop programs targeted at younger audiences that do not already watch religious programming.

How much would it cost?

The cost depends on what sort of show you are making. I’m most familiar with narrative programming. But you could do other sorts of shows that are not preaching/teaching/worship based.

If you do narrative, obviously, your church probably won’t be paying scale for actors and crew. Most of the people involved will be doing it as a ministry project. But unless you have no money at all, you should try to pay people something. I’ve done a show for no money before. It can be done, but it’s not sustainable long-term.

What if you could come up with $100 per day for the main cast and crew? That’s not scale, and there would be taxes taken out, etc… but $100. I have generally been able to shoot an episode in 4 days or less. If you have 4 main actors, and a crew with director, camera, audio and PA, you are looking at $800 per day. $3200 per episode. Plus any gear, additional actors, insurance, food, etc… $5000-5500 per episode. That may seem like a lot, but it is nothing compared to what network programming costs per episode.

At $5500, a 6 episode run would cost $33,000. 13 episodes would cost $71,500. This is assuming someone on your church’s staff is writing and producing the program, filling in the show running duties. And someone on staff would be doing the post work as well. One person cannot do it all, so you will need some help. Filmmaking and TV production is a team sport. Bare bones, on a shoe-string, you could make 6-13 episodes of a show for less than the cost of air time and a staff position in many markets. Other kinds of show may cost more or less depending on what all is involved in creating them.

How would people see it?

You just spent your airtime budget on production. How is anyone going to see it?

-Christian TV is begging for narrative content.

Literally begging because they can’t/won’t pay for it, but also begging because they want it badly.

It’s tempting to ignore broadcast television altogether. But even though the number is dropping, according to Accenture Digital Consumer survey, over half of TV shows and movies are still watched on TV. So it’s not a horrible place to be. And given the state of the religious TV market, you could have your show broadcast around the world for free. You might even get a little bit of money back to go toward the production of the program. One network my show was on was able to cover the cost of closed captioning. Traditional Christian programs have to purchase air time, but non traditional ones have a lot of effective, free options for broadcast.

Putting a Christian TV show on a Christian network is not way to reach the masses. The vast majority of viewers are Christians. I know that isn’t surprising, but I want to be clear that a program on Christian TV will be mostly seen by Christians. That’s OK, discipleship is something the church should be doing, and this is an avenue to disciple believers beyond the walls of your building.

You can produce programming that might appeal to non Christians, and broadcast it through non religious outlets, but it will cost more. Be sure to count the cost before you head down this road. There might be ways to mitigate those costs, but there will be costs.

-The internet is free.

It’s also very big. You cannot just throw a video on Youtube and expect it to reach thousands of people. If you have a video that has been seen by over 100 people, then you are in the top 30% of all Youtube videos. 300 hours of content is uploaded every minute! Youtube is massive. It’s the 2nd largest search engine, behind Google. So, most content is not seen by a lot of people. In order to be effective online you must have a marketing strategy. You need to develop an audience.

As a church you have a great foundation in your own congregation. Not only should you be mobilizing them to watch, but mobilize them to be encouraging their sphere of influence to watch as well. Last year my church did a campaign to get people to share their testimony through social media. It was not as successful as we had hoped. Still, I was able to locate over 80 videos that had been uploaded in the project, and I know that was just part of the ones uploaded over all. Those 80 videos had been seen over 200,000 times. Even if only a small portion of your congregation engages, you can still reach a lot of viewers.

Does your church have a ministry to help parents teach their kids about the Bible at home? How about developing a program that targets young mothers, and touches on subjects that they will have to face as they teach their own kids? Do a lot of mission trips? Send a video crew out with your teams, and produce a program that highlights the importance and impact of being in involved in missions.

Find something you are passionate about, that fits into the strategic vision of your church. Develop a program that targets younger audiences who would be interested in programming about that theme. Build a team, and make the show.

 

 

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Did Your Pastor Advertise for a Movie on Facebook?

Recently I’ve been seeing a lot of these ads on my news feed.

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Pretty inventive. Using Facebook’s targeting for advertising, the sponsor set the ad to show to people who like First Baptist Orlando, the pastor there is Dr. David Uth. Then they used the actual name of the pastor in the ad. It did get my attention, if for no other reason than to see if he was actually involved some how. He is not.

Another ad claims that many from First Orlando are going to the film. That one isn’t as cool as the one that uses the name. They did just a bit of research, personalized the ad, and made me look twice. In that regard it worked.

When I watched the trailer, I decided against going to the film itself. But I did watch the trailer. Could a similar ad work for you?

TFWM Article

I was quoted in the March issue of Technologies for Worship Magazine in an article about broadcast ministry. (This is the online issue. Article on Page 16) Here’s a link to the blog bost they quoted from: The Decline of Christian TV – the Future of Christian TV. It’s actually from February 2012.

Since this article was posted, I have actually broadcast the show I was developing back then. We are in fundraising and pre production on new episodes. Production hits in April, with a new broadcast debut on JCTV in June. We will have 10 episodes after this production run.

I still believe that the future of Christian TV/video is in doing show that appeal to younger viewers, and getting away from the paid time model. I have never paid for time to broadcast my show. There are ways to get shows on stations without paying, but you have to have content that is unique.

Just a few weeks ago I was at NRB again. I finished out my term on the Church Media Committee. This year I was promoting my program, so I talked to a lot of stations and networks. To my knowledge, Peculiar is the only Christian sitcom in production today.

That amazes me.

There might be something else out there, but I have not found it. I want to find it. I want there to be all sorts of programming from a biblical perspective. There are a couple of reality shows, a few dramas, but where are the comedy shows (not stand up comedy) that are not directed at kids?

Anyway, I have found that station and networks are looking for content that is unique, and if you fit their target audience, you have a shot on being on there for free. You still have to cover production costs, and stuff like that, but not air time. You don’t get to pick the time slot. But it’s free.

It’s easier if you have an organization behind you. Independent Christian TV is hard, and expensive.

But if we don’t change, we lose religious broadcasting. This medium has been so powerful over the years. I don’t want to see us abandon it.

New stuff is hard. But are we called to make programming that is easy and familiar, or are we called to reach the world all ages and areas) for Christ?

Peculiar Fundraising Update

cover supportWe have been in the middle of a crowdfunding campaign over at IndieGoGo for new episodes of my show, Peculiar.

We have 19 days left. We are 22% toward our goal. We passed the 2nd donation level… which means we released a 2nd Reveal Video. When we hit certain levels of donations, we reveal a little more about the new episodes. This one exposes a few of the themes for upcoming shows:

And in case you missed it, here is the first level Reveal Video:

So now you are up to date on the campaign! Next Reveal Video will be out when we hit $2000.

We need your help to make this happen. You can do something “Peculiar” and support Independent Christian TV! Even if you decide not to give any cash, you can use the tools on the page, right under the video, to share the campaign with your friends.

Independent Christian TV and Crowdfunding

independtv[Note: There’s a link in this article to the current crowdfunding campaign for the next season of Peculiar.]

I don’t know if this classification already exists, it probably does. To me, it means Christian TV programming that is not financially supported by another organization.

There are many shows that are a part of the broadcast ministry of a church, or attached to a network. Or supported by a ministry of some kind. Then there are shows that are out here, just making TV. If they are set up as non profit, then they are most likely ask for donations on their show and pay for their air time, continuing the paid time/donor model of religious programming.

Last week I was at the National Religious Broadcasters Convention. I talked with 18 different stations and networks about airing Peculiar. Many seemed interested. As hard as it is for me to believe, it seems like I have the only Christian sitcom out there. (Surely, someone else is doing something similar…)

But almost every station and network has a problem with my show. It’s aimed at the wrong demographic. That doesn’t mean they won’t air it, but the fact is, my 18-35 year old target is too young for their audience. It’s a vicious cycle.

Young adults don’t watch religious programming. So Christian program producers don’t make programming that appeals to them, they focus on people they can reach. They do shows for 35-50 year old women, and people age 50+. Then, when a young adult flips through the station they don’t ever see anything they want to watch, so they don’t watch religious programming. And the cycle rolls on.

There are some exceptions out there, but generally large Christian networks don’t do programming for young adults. I talked at length with one network rep, and he seemed very interested in the show. They are creating a new commercial network (trying to navigate the changing nature of religious broadcasting, looking to the future when paid time won’t be viable anymore) but their target is age 35-50 women.

Smaller station are more flexible, and I have several that should begin broadcasting the show as soon as I can get the episodes to them. I hope to find at least one larger network that will take a chance on us.

Meanwhile, I am finding out more each day why no one does what we are doing. They have to fund it somehow. With no large church or ministry or network to finance the show, how do we pay for it?

First, we do it for next to nothing. Quality suffers, but not as much as you would think. You have to be smart, efficient, and be able to cast a clear vision for why people should give of their very precious time to your project. When I showed the rep at that network our promotional piece that listed the ideal budget for each episode, he was shocked that I could do an episode for $5000. I laughed. I told him that was the ideal budget, what I would like to raise so I could pay the people involved a little something. We shot the first 6 episodes of Peculiar for under $3600. Total. Not everyone will have the resources I do, but you can reduce the cost dramatically. I call what we are doing micro-budget.

Second, we use crowd funding sites to raise money. Right now (through April 4th) we are raising money for the new season. We went with IndieGoGo this time, but for the first episodes we used Kickstarter. Both platforms (and many others out there) offer independent TV and filmmakers the chance to find the money for their projects. There are a lot of things that go into a successful crowdfunding campaign, more than I have space for here. So do you homework before you launch.

Meanwhile, we work at it. Keep moving forward. Keep doing freelance work to pay bills.

Barna Research and Why I’m Creating a TV Show

I saw this article in my twitter stream, and wanted to share some of it with you. It’s “Five Myths about Young Adult Church Dropouts” and references a new book by David Kinnaman called “You Lost Me.” The article reviews some Barna research that shows how some of our common conceptions about why younger people are leaving the church are wrong. I was particularly interested in part of Myth #4, which talks about biblical illiteracy.

Myth 4: This generation of young Christians is increasingly “biblically illiterate.”
Reality: The study examined beliefs across the firm’s 28-year history, looking for generational gaps in spiritual beliefs and knowledge. When comparing the faith of young practicing faith Christians (ages 18 to 29) to those of older practicing Christians (ages 30-plus), surprisingly few differences emerged between what the two groups believe. This means that within the Christian community, the theological differences between generations are not as pronounced as might be expected. Young Christians lack biblical knowledge on some matters, but not significantly more so than older Christians.

Instead, the research showed substantial differences among those outside of Christianity. That is, older non-Christians were more familiar than younger non-Christians with Bible stories and Christian theology, even if they did not personally embrace those beliefs.

The Barna president described this as “unexpected, because one often hears how theologically illiterate young Christians are these days. Instead, when it comes to questions of biblical literacy, the broader culture seems to be losing its collective understanding of Christian teachings. In other words, Christianity is no longer ‘autopilot’ for the nation’s youngest citizens.

Did you catch that? He is saying what we have seen for some years now. Christianity is not the default religion of America anymore.

I had a conversation with a new believer today. She has not been to church since she was a small child. Her daughter and grand children have never been to church, their whole lives, until they came to our Christmas presentation last week. They did not grow up knowing much of anything about the Bible, other than what media has taught them. And people this age consume a huge amount of media.

If we have any hope of reaching these generations, we must engage the culture. I do not mean engage, as in “attack.” I mean engage as in interact with it. We need to tell the story of the Gospel in ways it understands. We must use media, which younger people are consuming in massive quantity, to communicate. of course, this isn’t new. Christians have been “using media” for decades. But we are using it in ways we like, and understand. We are not using it in ways the people we should be engaging like or understand.

Even among lifelong Christians, religious programming is considered lame. There are shows I just cannot watch. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a good worship service on TV as much as the next guy, but these are not produced with the non Christian in mind. When an irreligious person stumbles on such a program and has an encounter with Christ, it is truly the work of the Holy Spirit.

Mark Ramsey was speaking to the National Religious Broadcasters Convention in early 2011, and he asked the crowd to look at their media offerings. I’ll never forget his question: Are we offering media in a way that is easy for us, or in a way that our audience wants to receive it.

In all too many cases it’s because it is easy. It is easy to take the service we already produce and put it on TV. It is easy to record the audio of the sermon and play it on the radio. And if our audience wants that, then we are doing great.

But if our audience is not the church crowd, repackaging church content is not the best way to reach them.

For me, the choice is simple. If we are to help younger non Christians become “biblically literate,” then we have to use media to show a biblical worldview. And we must use it in a way they like to receive it. 18-34 year olds use social media, watch video online, and like comedies.

So, my show is targeted at that age, is a comedy, and will be delivered online. I doubt it will win an Emmy, but I pray people will watch it.

Christian TV: Now is the Time for Change

We have the chance to show a biblical worldview to a generation that is leaving the church in droves. We can change Christian TV and impact people we have never reached before.

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?

Television broadcasting is in the middle of the largest shift in content delivery since cable was invented. In the next few years 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 of people. We can create shows and distribute them directly on services like Netflix and Hulu, or through YouTube or Vimeo, or any other web video outlet.

We need more people to break outside traditional Christian TV models and create programming that appeals to those who flip past the religious channels on their TV. We need a new wave of Christian media professionals to do to TV what we have started to do to the movie industry.

I am developing a sitcom that will appeal to 18-34 years olds who use social media and can bypass traditional media roadblocks to Christian content.

My show answers one question: What does it really mean to have a biblical worldview? Research shows that 18-34 years olds prefer either reality TV or comedies. My show is based on a freshman college student from a non religious family who has just asked Jesus into his heart. We follow the main character through life as he struggles to understand what his new faith really means, and see the contrasts between how Christendom views faith and how the world views faith. The style is sort of like someone took Stuff Christians Like, Community, and Scrubs and threw them into a blender.

The funding portion of this still taking shape. We will pay for it by keeping costs low and selling sponsorships and product placement. If I can successfully take advantage of the resources available to me, the production costs will be minimal. Start up costs include money for props and advertising, which could be significant.

Target audience of 18-34 year olds who use social media. Delivery through the internet. Funny, compelling comedy that views characters from a biblical perspective. That’s the dream.

How can you be involved.

– Pray
“Like” the Peculiar Show page on Facebook.
– Follow @peculiarshow on twitter.
– Send an email to scott@peculiarshow.com

This is very early in the process. There are a million things to do, and I only know how to do some of them. But every day things are moving forward.

Forward Progress

It’s really all Seth Godin and Jon Acuff’s fault. I keep reading books and posts by Godin talking about “shipping” and I read Acuff’s Quitter book, and stopped thinking about how I was going to make it happen and started seeing the resources around me and engaging them. I came out of an intense week of prayer and fasting with a basic distribution model, but no idea. I talked with people. I had an amazing conversation with David Nixon of DNP Studios, which you may know from their involvement with Sherwood Pictures and the movie Letters To God. I talked about my distribution idea. I dreamed, I thought, I prayed, I paid attention.

Then about the ninth or twelfth idea I worked on started to stick. I kept coming back to it. I remember when it crystalized. I had just written about why Christians Don’t Believe in Comedy. And I got the chance to have a soda with Eric Bramlett, who produced the “Sunday” parody you can see in that post. He is part of the Exponential Conference we host every year. I had been waffling between some sort of comedy and/or reality TV show. The target audience was 18-34 year olds who use social media. The two most popular kinds of TV shows for this demographic are sitcoms and reality TV shows. I had even considered a stand-up-comedy/missions show. But after our conversation I was more convinced than ever that a sitcom from a biblical worldview was the way to go.

But I’m not script writer. I know a bit about single camera production, but I’m not director. But I can be creative, and I’m really good at logistics. And we have some great talent right here on the church staff. So I developed the idea a bit, and when I had a shell I went to see George Livings. We talked about the series and he gave me some advice. I went back to work. we’ve talked a few times since then, and now he has volunteered his writing partner and himself to help me make the pilot plot into a real script.

In the meantime I was talking with my boss, Jon Marks. I had been keeping him vaguely in the loop for months, but I finally just broached the subject of resources. I was concerned about exposure for the church, but we have a lot of resources that could be utilized in production with no additional cost and a lot of people who are interested in TV and movies in the congregation. Since Christians really don’t believe in comedy, and this show is geared toward non Christian people and will address issues that may make Christians uncomfortable, I didn’t know how closely tied the church would want to be. There will be some negative reaction. I won’t relate all of our conversation, but the gist was this; Art is risk. That doesn’t mean the church is going to partner with me. But we are engaged in conversation about it.

This week I finished the prep work on the plot outline, and registered the series idea with the Writers Guild of America (#1535064). I’ll write up a synopsis of what it is later. For now the next step is finishing the script. And then… I don’t know. Support needs to be raised, because even if I can create the shows for very little money advertising isn’t free. I need to build a “tribe” as Godin would say. Casting. rehearsal, production, post, delivery. The other 12 episodes in this season need to be plotted and written. I’ve started on episode two and have the general themes for the rest.

There’s a lot to be done. And this isn’t my job. This is my side project. But every step is forward motion.