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First Commandment:Good Content

While a multiplatform approach has raised the bar for religious networks when it comes to content quality, alternative platforms have given faith-based producers more flexibility in terms of distribution.

“Today, content starts on the Web. Then you figure out where it goes after that,” says Father Eric Andrews, president of Paulist Productions, a Pacific Palisades, Calif., faithbased content producer. Online platforms allow producers to use the Internet as an incubator or test market for content that is still in development, enabling them to better craft what eventually makes it to air, Andrews says.

If a project doesn’t get picked up, it can still find life with online faith-based content aggregators like SpiritClips and the Odyssey Channel. But despite the increased demand for faith-based content online, Andrews says that there is little incentive to focus on producing “Webisodes” without revenue return. “Without a business model in place, it’s just maybe [a series] gets lucky and maybe it doesn’t,” he says.

But with the rise in production equipment quality and declines in prices, the faith-based television community has seen a notable increase in companies that are willing to try their luck.

Harvey Lehrer, senior director for Bel Air, Calif.-based JTN Productions, says the upsurge of new content producers is a breath of fresh air for Jewish programming. “Independent producers and amateur video enthusiasts are really at the forefront of producing some of the best Jewish content currently available, and this is exciting because it allows us to identify new talent and hopefully begin a working relationship,” Lehrer says.

Paulist’s Andrews is more skeptical: “I think it’s great that there’s been a democratization of the production process. But in the end, in my experience, if you don’t have the trained eye of a director or the writing that’s necessary, it’s not going to go anywhere.”

For the faith-based networks that are hungry for top-quality programming, this only creates a wider selection of content and a healthy competition among producers. In the end, those who create the highest-quality content rise to the top.

“We’re engaging dozens of production companies. We’ve kicked open the doors and allowed them to come to us with their ideas,” says Paul Crouch Jr., chief of staff for Trinity Broadcasting Network, who says that enhancing content quality is the network’s top priority. “It’s like diamond mining—unfortunately, there’s a lot of dirt to dig through right now. But you do get a diamond.”

Michael P. Warsaw, president and CEO of Catholic network EWTN, echoed that sentiment. “It’s the content that matters most,” Warsaw says. “That’s true across all programming genres, but especially so for religious programmers. If you have more platforms to deliver compelling content, then [producers] will find you and engage with you. And that’s a win for everyone.”