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Digital Ministries

Houses of worship are logging on, as more religious programmers turn to the Internet to deliver their message and cut costs.

“A lot of cable providers would require a church to pay a fee,” said Melissa Wharton, CEO of The Church Online, which offers a turnkey package of hardware, software and bandwidth so ministries can quickly begin streaming video online. “The Internet opens up the ability for churches to get around that hindrance.”

For some, another motivation is the ability to deliver more content beyond the video-on-demand server capacity of the local cable operator or telco. Pittsburgh’s Mt. Ararat Baptist Church, for example, uses Webcasting to offer archives for those who want every sermon on divorce or charity.

“It gives us the opportunity to bundle messages and ministry programs so that a person has the opportunity to go back,” said the Rev. Dr. William Curtis, Mt. Ararat’s senior pastor. “The more access that a member has to that, the more they’re able to retain it.”

The type of content varies somewhat by denomination.

“Most synagogues are still in the early stages of supplementing their Web sites with media-rich materials,” said Rabbi Mark Golub, CEO of Shalom TV. “These efforts are primarily directed at Jewish learning, as the videotaping of services is generally reserved for High Holiday observances.”

Religious Webcasting is a double-edged sword. While it may attract more eyeballs, it also chews up bandwidth, which some service providers are trying to conserve by implementing monthly usage caps.

Houses of worship and religious networks have their own bandwidth problems: The more people watch their programs online, the more they have to pay their service providers. Hence, the appeal of sites such as (formerly, where houses of worship and religious nets can upload video for viewing, thereby sidestepping the bandwidth penalty.

“The ministries see that as, 'Why should we pay the bandwidth costs if Tangle will pay that for us?’ ” said Jason Illian, its CEO.

For multichannel providers, one potential way of encouraging viewers to watch broadband video — regardless of whether it’s faith-based or secular — while protecting bandwidth is to create a lineup of broadband channels that don’t count against the usage cap. Depending on whether customers find that selection compelling, it could help reduce the amount of time they spend on other video sites and make them less likely to grouse about caps.

“That’s a cool idea,” said Bill Airy, chief operating officer at The Inspiration Networks, which tested some of its programming on Charter’s portal. “I hadn’t even considered it. We’ll look into it.”

Although multichannel providers are increasing their HD lineups, some faith-based networks say they’re having a tough time finding a home for HD content.

INSP has upgraded its production facilities for HD and is now acquiring HD content. But it is grappling with issues such as operators’ bandwidth capabilities and whether HD is a must-have.

“It’s hard to monetize,” said Airy. “It’s significantly greater cost, and in our category, I’m not sure it is a fundamental value add.”

But on the Web, HD could be a draw, especially among viewers who can’t get a faith-based network’s high-definition feed from their multichannel provider.

“Web-based HD will arrive without question, and we are planning for that sooner rather than later,” said Daystar president and founder Marcus Lamb.