The more I analyze the current state of the Christian film market the more I realize it is desperately missing that full sweep of massive exposure that comes from television time and/or theatrical runs.
There are a lot of people trying to convert the tech-savvy churches with movie screens and integrated speakers into a Christian version of a theatrical run and, in a lot of ways, that makes a LOT of sense. It allows for a theatrical exposure geared toward those people most likely to purchase your product. Win-win in a lot of ways.
But it is limited.
I’ve heard from various pastors that they are too busy to worry about movie screenings at their church and the reality is that showing a Christian film at a church is appropriately pretty low on the priority list. So, church screenings make sense, but there is no structured, proven exposure and saturation point for Christian film products for this type of approach.
Hollywood currently relies heavily on DVD sales for a major portion of their overall income stream, although they are adapting as the online streaming world becomes closer to reality. Christian filmmakers do the same. They rely almost completely on the sale of their films on DVD in order to recoup their investment. With little to no media exposure, they have an uphill battle before them.
Numerous articles are stating that Hollywood DVD sales are decreasing. This decrease in DVD sales illuminates the changing landscape of the film buying public (Blu-ray, streaming) as well as their growing intelligence as to products and quality. One article even mentioned how it’s actually forcing Hollywood to consider quality over quantity. What a thought!
It further shows that whatever challenges are facing Hollywood also face the Christian film maker. The exception is that Christian film makers don’t have the resources to weather the evolving income stream storm.
POWER OF EXPOSURE
All of those challenges aside, Hollywood still has the great advantage of owning the established media by which they can garner enough exposure to influence disposable buying habits. They own the networks. They own the cable channels. They have established access to theatrical chains. All of this exposure = selling power.
And that’s what the current crop of Christian films lack… exposure.
I recently read that it now takes up to five views (up from three) for a potential consumer to become aware of your product enough to consider buying it. Hollywood can inundate their network and cable channels to meet this need.
What are Christian filmmakers to do?
Furthermore, Christian film fans are understandably skeptical. Most of the Christian products provided over the last decade have been shameful at worst and competent at best. Sure, there are a few exceptions, but 99% of Christian product has been far below the overall production value knowledgeable cinema fans have come to expect.
As a fellow Christian filmmaker, I do know the financial limitations facing the industry at this time, but I can also state with confidence that the quality of Christian films is quickly on the rise. Many upcoming films have shown tremendous promise to provide a Christian story wrapped in above-average to excellent film making.
But, how can you change the minds of all of those jaded film fans who happen to be Christian if they don’t have easy access to your work? If they don’t get those five views to determine whether they’re interested in your product or not?
I’m Catholic and my church doesn’t have a high tech sanctuary in which to watch films. My best chance is through Netflix. But that exposure is personal based on my interest in the industry, not public, not broad reaching and won’t make a dent in the current over saturated media market.
FIGHTING THE NOISE
In advertising, there is such a thing as noise. Noise is all of the chatter around all of the products available to you. Advertisers try to find a way to break through the noise, to stand out, to make you remember them. Geico probably does this better than anyone, running four or five concurrent, different advertising campaigns, all of which are memorable in their own right.
Breaking through that noise is daunting for Hollywood and near impossible for Christian filmmakers.
And then there’s the problem with income…
Until Hollywood figures out a way to monetize the media distribution process, nothing we’re doing now is the long term solution. At some point we’ll have to pay for what we watch.
There is already talk of a thing called “the grid” which is the next generation of internet. And, I can almost guarantee that access to that Internet 2.0 will cost more money and, once available, will be where all of the shows are located. Kinda like a cable network. And each company will have their own website with their content… kinda like a cable channel. And each show will be buffeted with advertising… kinda like commercials. And, in the end, it will seem a heck of a lot like something we currently call “television.”
But how is a Christian filmmaker supposed to break through the secular noise inundating the available, Hollywood run airwaves?
LEAD IN HIGH DEF
I go back to my previous premise… Christian films need a television channel. Not a channel like TBN or JCTV or EWTN, which are Christian channels that happen to show movies on occasion.
We need a channel like HDNET which presents film material with respect and in the best possible quality available. A MOVIE channel that happens to be Christian.
And it better happen fast… the window of being a known HD channel quantity is fast disappearing. Competing against 50 HD channels allows you to develop name recognition… wait much longer and you’ll be up against 500 channels and the noise factor increases.
People are saying that standard television viewing is dead. There are too many options with video games and social websites and free view-tubes online. That is all true… right now. Things are different. Viewing habits have changed.
But, I have a theory…
A long time ago I read an article about the sitting patterns of people watching television. The short of it is this, the older people get, the more comfortable seat they prefer. Young kids lay on the floor, older people sit on the couch. Later, they sit in recliners.
That being said, I’m confident that, no matter how the younger generation currently likes to watch their media, either on a two inch screen of their IPOD or the pixelated, blocky presentation from You Tube, as they get older, they’re going to want to sit in their comfy chair and, with their failing eye sight, watch their entertainment on all of that high definition technology in which they’ve so heavily invested. They’ll get bored with five minute shorts and want something more lengthy, that tells a better story and touches more mature aspects of their lives.
This experience may not be “television” as we know it today. It may be immediate streaming from the “grid” or shown in three dimensions, but in ten years they’ll be sitting in their comfy chairs watching their large flat screens with their family again… kinda like today.
And whether that’s called television or the grid or internet 2.0, Christian cinema needs a central, dedicated space in that landscape. A space where the general public can “happen” across their work. Where exposure to their holy work is greater than a website with a trailer imploring someone to buy their film, work unseen.
CHRISTIAN FILMS DOOMED?
Does that mean current Christian filmmakers can’t make money? No. It means you have to be frugal and creative and have faith, above all. However, frugality often leads to weaker production values which limits the potential success of your product, which leads to less income, which leads to less money for your next film… a vicious cycle.
Through God all things are possible. So, my faith in the long term effect of Christian films remains undaunted. But we should not expect God to fix all of our problems. We need to use the talents our Creator has given us to demand a solution.
The current Christian film market paradigm is incomplete to me because we simply lack an opportunity for wide exposure and we, as a Christian film community, need to fix it. Not only for our own survival, but, more importantly, for the greater glory and praise of our Lord Jesus Christ.