Networks Are Going Where the Action Is

Religious programmers of all kinds are
seeing the light of live events.

While the religious shows of yesteryear were often a
repository of sermons and Sunday services, today’s
programmers are seeing the value of diversified content,
particularly on their Web and mobile platforms.

Increasingly, that content includes live event streaming.
And the results are palatable.

When thousands hit the streets of Washington, D.C., on
a rainy Monday late last month for the “March for Life,” the
annual pro-life rally, Catholic-focused network EWTN was
there with wall-to-wall coverage that streamed live on the
network’s website and various mobile platforms.

“We’re putting more emphasis on live events,” EWTN
president and CEO Michael Warsaw said. “We are carrying
many more live events than we did, say, five years ago.”

For this year’s March for Life, the network added live interactive
feedback through Twitter and Facebook. It aired
Masses from the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate
Conception and speeches from House Speaker
John Boehner (R-Ohio) and various political and religious


EWTN beefed up its social-media integration on mobile
platforms for the event because of the March for Life’s
youth-oriented nature, Warsaw said. “It’s become a very
youth-oriented annual event. It’s a very youthful crowd, so
[social media] is one of the things we certainly emphasized.”

EWTN has been conducting audience research on its
streaming live events for only about a year and a half. Traffic for mobile streams was up more than 200% from the
end of 2010 to the end of 2011, according to Warsaw, while
overall streaming increased 30% to 50% for the year.

The network plans more live coverage this spring, when
Pope Benedict XVI visits Mexico and Cuba in March.

Boston-based Catholic TV also covered the March
for Life and streams several other live shows, including
morning talk show This Is the Day. Catholic TV broadcasts
Sunday Mass from the University of Notre Dame’s Basilica
of the Sacred Heart.

Catholic TV’s Father Robert Reed said live events reach
a younger and much wider audience than traditional
network programming.

“These live stream events are national and international,”
he said. “It’s a much broader [audience].”

Other programmers, like Trinity Broadcasting Network,
have also gotten in on the live feeding frenzy. The broadcaster
has covered Joel Osteen’s “A Night of Hope” event
series, most recently the pastor’s mega-event at Chicago’s
U.S. Cellular Field last August.

“There is a definite place for the live programming just in
terms of the audience response and the reaction back,” TBN
vice president of cable and satellite relations Bob Higley said.

Bob Fopma, TBN’s vice president of production, has the
numbers to back that up. A recent study of the TBN mailing
list by American Research Group found that 50% of the
1.5 million people on the Night of Hope mailing list watch
video-on-demand content. It also shows that most of its
audience fell within the 35-to-54-year-old demographic.

“There’s a stereotype that this is an older demographic,”
Fopma said. “Right there in the middle-age group … those
are the people who are going to help drive sales for iPhones,
TV Everywhere devices.”

Last fall, the network rolled out its hugely ambitious
iTBN service, which made thousands of hours of archived
shows available for free online. It’s not live, but it is a way
to make widely available content that can’t be seen on linear
platforms. More than 5,000 programs are on the site;
TBN tallied nearly 4.5 million plays by the end of 2011.

Video solutions providers are also excited about the new
opportunities that religious programming presents.

Companies like Brightcove provide platforms let programmers
integrate video-on-demand and live streaming
into their websites.

“They’re fundamentally
looking for efficient ways to
share their message and their
stories,” Brightcove vice president
of product marketing Steve
Rotter said of religious programmers
and church groups.
“For churches who cover a decentralized
group, they want to
do it through online video.”

Rotter said part of the attraction
of partnerships with Webvideo
solutions companies is
the efficiency of the streaming
and integration within a
site. Many programmers —
especially smaller religious outlets
— don’t have the resource of
their own Web-video team.


The Church of Jesus Christ of
Latter-day Saints uses Brightcove
for HD live streaming of
its events, including this year’s
General Conference in Salt
Lake City. The event delivered
more than 2 million streams.

Christian organization Samaritan’s
Purse has used
Brightcove’s embedded player
to showcase its “Operation
Christmas Child” initiative,
which brings millions of shoe boxes filled with gifts to children in war-torn areas of
Africa and Eastern Europe.

The Jesus Film Project is another successful VOD partnership
with Brightcove. The two-hour docudrama Jesú first
debuted in 1979 and is one of the most widely-seen films in
history. Online availability has given it a new life.

The Jesus Film Project launched online nearly two
years ago and averages more than 45,000 page views
a month from more than 180 countries, according to
Video Cloud.

“For the past 30 years,
our ministry has focused
on physical media as our
main distribution strategy,”
Gabe Handy, technical
team leader in the
digital media distribution
department for
the Jesus Film Project, said.
“Now, we are in the midst of
making online video our primary
distribution method.”

Michael Solomon is another
person who has spent
decades making his living in
traditional media and now
hopes to make a big splash in
digital media and online. The
former president of Lorimar-
Telepictures and Warner
Bros. International Television
is launching IPTV service
Truli this spring.

Truli allows Christian
viewers to see on-demand
sermons from pastors for a
monthly fee. Thus far, Truli
has signed on 20 to 25 ministries
and hopes to have
twice that number by its
April 1 launch.

“A lot of cable networks — Time Warner Cable and the
Dish Network — have limited numbers of religious content.
The internet is really the most flexible form of distribution
of religious content today,” Solomon said. Truli
is planning a big “coming out party” at the National Religious
Broadcasters conference next week, with a press
conference in Nashville, Tenn., scheduled for Feb. 19.

“A lot of people are losing their jobs, losing their
homes,” Solomon said. “A lot of people are desperate
… People turn more and more to God and the spiritual
world in times of crisis.”

And when they do to turn to God these days, they’ll find
a host of new offerings waiting for them.