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Preaching Across Platforms

10/04/2010 5:19 AM Eastern

In recent years, faith-based
networks, like their secular
counterparts, have embraced
a multiplatform approach to
their programming by including
video-on-demand, mobile applications
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
have found success with the multiplatform
approach, according
to said National Religious Broadcasters
senior vice president and
general manager Craig Parshall,
whose organization represents
1,700 faith-based TV and radio
broadcasters.

“You have to be on multiple
platforms — wherever there are
eyeballs, you have to be,” Parshall
said. “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, l ike the
Christian Broadcasting Network,
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, which airs
weekday mornings on ABC Family, also saw a 33% increase in its
year-to-year Nielsen numbers in
September. On-demand views via
CBN.com were also up 20% from
the second quarter, to 4 million in
the third quarter.

“We found a strong correlation
with the main host interacting
with our audience on Skype, and
our growth from a [television] ratings
standpoint,” Robertson said.

As a result of its multiplatform
success, CBN plans to relaunch
Superbook, its popular 1980s animation
franchise, in fall 2011 as
a CGI series. A new website to accompany
the redesigned show
(www.superbook.tv), which includes
social-networking features,
games and contests for
kids, is already up and running.

Since its launch in November
2009, Superbook.tv has received
4.4 million page views, averaging
435,000 each month — making
up nearly 10% of CBN.com’s
page views.

Faith-based FamilyNet is expanding
multiplatform programming
through television, radio
and the Internet through a simultaneous
broadcast, or “Mega-
Cast,” as dubbed by the network,
of FamilyNet Radio programs.
The first such MegaCast was the
Oct. 4 broadcast of The Kevin Mc-
Cullough
Show.

As a result of these brand extensions,
said FamilyNet CEO
Chris Wyatt, who also helped
found social network and video
platform GodTube.com, the
network has added millions in
revenue to its bottom line, has
shortened its return on investment
timeline by 70%, and has
increased viewership by 40% in
the past year. Wyatt largely credited
that to the network’s transition
from programming aimed at
a 50-to-64-year-old demographic
to targeting those 35 to 49.

A multiplatform strategy has
become part of FamilyNet’s identity.
“We are not only a faithbased
broadcaster, we’re also
a technology firm,” Wyatt said,
citing a new mobile application,
next-generation video technologies
and the launch of a revamped
“GodTube on steroids”
as upcoming projects. “Without
our multiplatform strategies, we
would have to rely solely on our
television and radio platforms.
As a result, we would not be profitable.”

Smaller networks like Bostonbased
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,” CatholicTV
director of marketing and programming
Bonnie Rodgers said.
“The way [non-subscribers] 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.”

With the Sept. 23 launch of
the social community iCatholic.com, the network has also
gained the confidence to start
thinking big. “Our growth since
introducing digital media has
been more anecdotal than quantifiable, but [that media] puts us
out there for providers and generates
interest,” Rodgers said.
“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 “multigenerational, multiplatform
strategy,” John Roos, senior vice president of corporate communications
at the programmer, said.

Inspiration targeted the hard-to-
reach youth demographic with
last October’s relaunch of iLifeTV
as Halogen, a channel that emphasizes
entertainment and lifestyles
rather than religion, and is
aimed at socially conscious 18-to-
34-year-old viewers.

Halogen defines itself as multiplatform,
rather than just as 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.

Halogen’s social-media focus
and presence contributed to its
recent launch on AT&T.

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 the
Steelroots content — to the Web
instead of canceling it outright.

“Steelroots content was placed
online because this is where the
target audience is, and this is
how they view content,” Hill
said. “This strategy has resulted
in increasing Web traffic for the
platform.”

In recent weeks, Steelroots.
com also began st reaming
monthly live concerts; in November,
it plans to launch a new Web
drama titled Next.

Shalom TV, a Jewish-targeted
network distributed 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 Rabbi
Mark S. Golub, Shalom’s CEO, 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, JerusalemOnline.
com and other news partners.

Golub said that 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 said. “So,
we’ve outfitted 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.”

Beyond the hurdles of transitioning
from traditional to new
media NRB’s Parshall said that
faith-based 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 said. “If the
medium distorts that message, it
has to be rejected.

“Right now, we at NRB are
concerned about being futurethinking
in terms of 21st century
rel igious 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.”

CASE STUDIES: FAITH-BASED NETWORKS GO MULTIPLATFORM
How these religious nets are expanding their digital presence and what’s next:

SHALOM TV
Video broadcast server
• Immediately transmits news to a myriad of Web sites, makes video available to the Jerusalem Post, Jewish Telegraphic Agency, JerusalemOnline.com, and others
Video on demand
• Distributed to more than 40 million homes Social media/video
• Network presence on YouTube, Vimio, DailyMotion, Yahoo and MetaCafe and series-specific Facebook sites have allowed Shalom TV to "build an online community of active viewers for the sharing of thoughts and opinions on both our programming and current event issues," according to CEO Rabbi Mark S. Golub
What's next
• Podcasts of original shows via the iTunes Store, including Jewish 101
• Mobile platforms
• Standalone linear channel

 

CHRISTIAN BROADCASTING NETWORK
Video on demand
• 10.5 million VOD views year-to-date, up from 9 million in all of 2009
• 20% growth in VOD views from Q2 to Q3 (to date), up from 3.3 million views in Q2 to 4 million views in Q3. (Views include both the CBN TV VOD Player and the CBN TV Embeddable Widget Player) Mobile
• Over 280% growth in number of monthly visitors to mobile website over the last 12 months
• September drew 65, 539 visitors to the site
• CBN TV mobile app available for iPod, iPad and iPhone; users can view topical content, full episodes, teaching series and more Social media
• myCBN, CBN's online community, has more than 47,000 registered users
• Facebook - branded groups and pages for CBN's different brands and shows; CBN pages and groups total 42,000 Facebook fans
Website
• Monthly unique visitors up 36.7% from August 2009 to 2010
• Visits for the year-to-date grew by 25.8%
What's next
• Live streaming video available to mobile devices beginning Dec. 1
• CBN TV available on Android-powered mobile devices on Dec. 1

 

EWTN GLOBAL CATHOLIC NETWORK
Website
• 17.4 million visitors in past 12 months
• 1.4 million visits in September, with number of visitors increasing monthly
• In addition to U.S. significant traffic from the Philippines, the UK, Malaysia, India, Italy, Australia, Brazil, and Mexico
Streaming video
• EWTN live stream draws close to 10,000 viewers per day
Mobile
• 40,000 visits a month to EWTN.com and EWTN's YouTube channels from mobile devices
Social media/video
YouTube channel
• Channels in English and Spanish
• 3,464 total subscribers
• Nearly 650,000 total viewers since March
• 30,000 users have embedded EWTN player to their sites
• Beyond the U.S., receives significant traffic from Canada, Mexico, the UK, Germany, Italy, and Japan.
Facebook
English page:
• 48,114 fans
• 35,603 monthly active users
• 240 daily new "likes"
• 14,732 daily post views
• 252 daily post feedback
Spanish page:
• 19,664 fans
Twitter
• English: 6,288 followers
• Spanish: 2,202 followers
What's next
• Plans to expand mobile presence

SOURCE: Each network provided data

September