How Can We Make Christian TV More Relevant?
Remember when the United States Supreme Court handed down a major decision in the Hobby Lobby case? It was a landmark ruling for religious protections in the marketplace, and as the Wall Street Journal wrote, it was “one of the most important rulings on religion in years.” The news was everywhere except one curious place: Christian TV. Please tell me if I missed it, but I have DirecTV, which includes the following Christian television networks:
The Church Channel
and SBN (The Jimmy Swaggart Network)
I scanned during the day and into the evening and couldn’t find a single reference to one of the most important Supreme Court rulings on religious faith in years. On the other hand, it was all over Christian radio, but Christian television? Not a peep that I could find.
Yesterday, millions of people had questions about the case, and what it meant. The opposition was lashing out – often hysterically – and inaccuracies were everywhere. Christian TV could have provided real answers, by featuring Christian legal experts, cultural commentators, theologians, local pastors – literally a range of people who could help us navigate today’s shifting culture. Plus, the coverage could have been live, just as the decision was handed down.
Christian TV is often criticized for all the ministries focused on money, and some excessive TV evangelists – especially when there are so many other powerfully compelling ways to share the gospel on television. But when it comes to helping Christians understand the world around them, be there when major changes happen, and provide immediate insight into the spiritual dimensions of our world, I’m afraid it’s completely AWOL.
Which begs the question: What would it take, and what would happen, if Christian television actually reached it’s potential?
I agree, Phil, but as you well know, there are few vehicles for this type of instant response on Christian TV. On radio, there are many live shows – especially during drive time – where real, live people can and do respond to current events. I am scratching my brain trying to think of one Christian network or station that has a live (not live to tape, but actually live) show – except for The 700 Club… and I bet they talked about it. Yes, we need to be more relevant on Christian TV, and you have eloquently hit on just the most recent example.
Agreeing with Joeisndorf. I work for a Christian TV station, and we just don’t do live TV. By the time we research, assemble our small crew(and freelancers), set interviews, edit and get it to air it is at least a week old. Christian online forums however, can respond pretty quickly. There was instant response on Facebook & Twitter.
Truth: I have Comcast Cable. I know I get some “Christian” TV stations but I don’t watch it. In fact, the TV wasn’t on at all last night. (I’m trying to read Jeff Abbott’s Thriller trilogy). But even if not, I would not have watched it. So much of it is pure garbage and hucksterism (sorry so pointed) and I have no desire to waste my time. I know that didn’t answer your question and I apologize but then again, it does.
Isn’t Christian TV an oxymoron? How about calling Christians with media expertise to take a stronger stand in the marketplace. Otherwise, they’re just preaching to the choir.
Christian television will have difficulty ever reaching its potential as long as they continue to play it safe and predicable. Change is what it would take, but why change doesn’t happen is the million dollar question.
Having spent the last 39 years of my life in media, first secular (BBC, including TV news) and then ‘Christian’ it saddens me how disconnected Christian TV has become. One of the things I like about you Phil is having a foot in both camps. I spend my time trying to encourage Christian media not to look like this alien bizarre beast that normal people cannot understand but to be normal. The problem as I see it is because of the alternative Christian culture. But Jesus walked and talked as a normal person! He had meals with people, talked and walked with them. He told stories that had questions and waited for others to ask what it meant. We need to be normal followers of Jesus not separated Christians. Then Christian TV will scratch where people itch.
One thing I would ask. Aside from possibly CBN, are there any other “news” outlets for Christian TV? While there are times I appreciate CBN, it has a defined point of view and does not always cover the full spectrum of Christian viewpoints equally or nor does it always present the “news” as it used to be covered. Just report the facts. Similar to the Walter Cronkite or Tom Brokaw used to bring in a commentator like John Chancellor for opinion. If there is room for ALJAZEERA there should be room for a Christian News station or two.
Good point. And don’t get me started on Aljazera or http://rt.com
I would like to see something along the lines of a neutral news source like CNN Headline News was back at the beginning. A half hour of World and US focused news reporting facts only on the news of the day. Then, do a half hour of opinion/reaction from a variety of representatives from across the wide variety of traditions of Judeo/Christian Heritage. It would also have to have hosts that didn’t influence opinion but rather asked questions and let those brought in for their opinion give it. I want to be able to trust the host. I would also like to see this done in a respectful manor. (No Jerry Springer Death matches.)
Great ideas Neal. A full news operation is expensive. I would at LEAST like to see the occasional live program addressing specific issues as they happen. But if we could pull off what you’re suggesting, that would be a huge step forward.
Agreed about the expenses. Some thoughts on that. Remember that in the earlier days of CNNHN, ESPN, MTV, etc. that they would use one recorded show for hours. MTV would run the same 3 hours of videos 8 times. CNNHN would record one half hour and repeat it for 4-8 hours depending on the time of day. ESPN would run the late night sportscenter from 1AM eastern until 12, 1 or 2 pm over and over. They could always break in with a live report until they got to the next recording session.
I would also suggest that costs could be cut even more by NOT being on broadcast TV. With the rapid adoption of High Speed internet and internet connected devices (Chromecast is only $35, Roku starts at $50, Android TV, Apple TV, etc.) and TVs that a reasonably priced studio set up and equipment like a mid-range NewTek Tricaster would dramatically reduce the cost of getting quality programming “on air.” Not going to get into opinions on what people think of Glenn Beck’s politics, but you have to admit. He has made an entire network work by doing just what I am talking about.
We should do that, however, the challenge is the size of the broadcast audience. It’s still huge. In fact, prime time rates – especially for special events are higher than ever for network TV.
I would challenge that somewhat. Should it be about the quantity of the audience or the quality of the audience? Take a look at what Leo Laporte has done with TWiT.TV. He is growing a huge business from focusing on his audience. He is getting more than fair ad rates because he delivers his niche to advertisers. Jeff Jarvis talks about the Mass of Niches. serve your niche, serve it well and you will be rewarded. In time, quality will be supported and can be built upon. Two years ago Leo was getting a quarter of a million downloads or views of his networks shows each week. That number has done nothing but grow. Maybe we aren’t talking NBC numbers, but I would say that many of the current Christian TV outlets would like to have those numbers.
The question becomes are you building a tribe or trying to reach as many people as possible? When it comes to the News, I might default to casting a wide net. However, I couldn’t agree with you more when it comes to building a brand.
I would agree with the wide net. However, from the perspective of covering all the Christian viewpoints. I haven’t seen the broad spectrum view of Christianity presented often. However, Christian TV on the whole is a niche similar to sports, news/talk, or music tv. I mean even the 700 club sold the network because that model wasn’t sustainable for them. I would propose that we must start looking today for what’s next and not what’s now. Mainline denominations are aging and if we want to reach folks in the future, we need to be where people will be consuming content and not worrying as much about old models. I do love reading your work.
Phil, I have been thinking more about this. What if this started on a smaller scale. Something like the Daily Tech News Show (http://www.dailytechnewsshow.com/) from Tom Merritt? I understand a full news operation can be costly. But with the use of a community, using Reddit to suggest stories and social media to discuss them, it could be somewhat crowd sourced. Read the news giving credit to the sources for ten minutes. Then, bring in experts via Skype or Hangouts to discuss the news of the day for another twenty or so minutes. Start it as a podcast/YouTube outlet. At least it would be a daily show doing news from a Christian perspective and available wherever (through mobile) and whenever people wanted to watch/listen. Thoughts?
Sounds like a plan Neal. Anything would be better than what we’re doing now.