ANAHEIM, Calif. (NRB) – The future of television is here — and it is ever changing and messy. With the emergence of continued new distribution methods, how do Christian broadcasters build an audience? What will the model of television be for the future, both for the industry at large and also the Christian television industry, specifically?
Former Governor Mike Huckabee, the host of Huckabee, and other top industry executives weighed in on these timely questions during the NRB TV & Film Summit on March 27 at Proclaim 19, the NRB International Christian Media Convention in Anaheim, California.
Huckabee was joined on the panel by Brian Bird, screenwriter and producer for Believe Pictures; Greg Bogdan, chief operating officer of Total Living International (TLI); and Tom Newman, head of content and development for Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN). Phil Cooke, producer and CEO of Cooke Media Group, moderated the discussion.
Huckabee is the No. 1 program on TBN, and the former governor said the network has given him a freedom he’s “never enjoyed before in Christian broadcasting.”
Huckabee recalled that he told Matt Crouch, chairman and president of TBN, “I’d like to do a television show that is unlike what people are used to. I’d like to have a show that is a variety show — enough politics to keep it interesting, but not so much to raise everybody’s blood pressure to 300 over 200.
“I do believe there is a place for a show that’s wholesome, refreshing, variety, that’s entertaining, informative, inspirational — all of those things in an hour — that it moves fast enough that nobody is just lost in a deep, long segment.”
Bogdan said content and storytelling are key to the future of the Christian television industry. “I think we were really good for a long time at telling people what we wanted to tell them, instead of learning what they needed to hear and communicating it in a way that they want to hear it.”
Bird said a big problem for the industry is getting on people’s radar screens. He said social media is the marketing department for his Hallmark Channel original series When Calls the Heart.
He said all people — believers and non-believers — have violin strings running through their soul, and those strings are tuned to these themes: courage, nobility, sacrifice, community, forgiveness, redemption, and resurrection.
“As storytellers and communicators, we need to pluck those strings for everybody,” he said. “I think what Christian media can do best is stir up soul cravings that get people hungry for real-life conversations with real people.”
Newman said TBN has seen success by providing engaging content and different formats that reach beyond the traditional audiences that the network has held for years.
Huckabee said it’s important to tell the stories of “ordinary” people who are doing extraordinary things.
“It just makes me feel really good to know that there are still people in the human race who are absolutely remarkable and have God’s imprint in their soul,” he said.
Huckabee said that many of the people who are creating television content are creating it from a very myopic perspective. He believes there are four cultural centers in America: New York, Washington, Los Angeles, and Silicon Valley.
“If you don’t live in one of those bubbles, which I call Bubbleville, then you probably live in what I call Bubbaville. But there aren’t a lot of shows that are directed toward Bubbaville, and that’s what I’m convinced there’s a dramatic need for.”
The “Future of Television” panel was one of several sessions held during the one-day NRB TV & Film Summit. Other panel topics included “The Future of Film,” “Where are the movies on Christian TV?” and “Women in Entertainment,” which featured a star-studded eight-woman panel including Shari Rigby, Madeline Carroll, Priscilla Shirer, and more.
Other sessions were led by DeVon Franklin, president & CEO of Franklin Entertainment; Erwin McManus, founder and lead pastor of Mosaic in Los Angeles; and writer, director, and actor Alex Kendrick of the Kendrick Brothers.
Capping the summit was a Super Session at which Kingdom Studios unveiled an unprecedented slate of faith-based film projects to be developed and produced by Kingdom and released through their recently announced partnership with global content leader Lionsgate.
The TV & Film Summit on March 27 was one of the four industry summits that took place during the week of Proclaim 19. Others included the Great Commission Summit (March 25), the Radio Summit (March 28), and the Digital Media Summit (March 29).
By Michael Smith