God Sells

Faith-based Media Earning Respect

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By Father John Flynn, L.C.



ROME, JUNE 11, 2007 (Zenit.org).- In spite of hostility to religion from a part of the media, faith-based material is flourishing in a number of sectors. The enthusiasm for films with a religious message shows no sign of flagging, especially with the recent announcement of a Christian entertainment company that it plans to build a $150 million studio to produce what they call "spiritainment."

The year-old Good News Holdings hopes to make Massachusetts the home for the multimedia studio, the Boston Globe reported June 6. The company is young, but has already developed a number of products.

One of the first was FaithMobile, which delivers Bible verses through text messages. Another is LightsTogether.com, an Internet community for churches that offers tools for organizing prayer groups and Christian dating.

With regard to films, work is under way on "Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt," the story of Jesus at 7 years old. It is scheduled to start shooting in Israel this fall, with an aimed release in 2008.

One of the co-founders of this group is David Kirkpatrick, a former president of Paramount Pictures. "Our focus is on values-based entertainment across all platforms," he told the Boston Globe. He described the company as "people who want to make a difference in the culture."

The Web page of the company describes itself as wanting to be "the world leader in spiritainment." Spiritainment, the page explains, "is content that challenges the mind, captures the heart and refreshes the spirit."

According to Good News Holdings, the market for Christian, faith-based entertainment and content is substantial. In addition to movies such as "The Passion of the Christ" -- $2 billion in worldwide ticket sales -- and "Narnia" -- $750 million -- Christian music had $720 million in sales in 2004.

Doing well

Not all religious-oriented films do well, but a report cited by an article published March 13 by the Christian Post Web page revealed that they do better than movies that include explicit sex and extreme bad language.

A study carried out by Ted Baehr, publisher of MovieGuide, a publication that rates movies from a Christian point of view, looked at the top movies from 1998 through 2006. The report shows that films with a strong Christian worldview make anywhere from two to seven times more in ticket sales than those with explicit sex and nudity.

These findings, noted the Christian Post, are in marked contrast to the "sex sells" long popular in American advertising circles. "Hollywood pundits and advertisers on Madison Avenue like to tell the press that sex, nudity and obscenity sells best," said Baehr in the report, "but nothing could be further from the truth."

Christian books are also selling well, reported the San Francisco Chronicle on April 23. HarperSanFrancisco, which up until now has concentrated on nonfiction religious books, recently launched a line of Christian fiction for women, called Avon Inspire.

According to the article, from 2002 to 2005, religious book sales jumped from $588 million to $876 million. Sales figures for February 2006 to February this year show that religious book sales increased 33% in just one year.

The San Francisco Chronicle noted that the increased sales have motivated some of the largest publishing houses, such as Random House and Simon & Schuster, to acquire Christian publishers based outside of New York.

Bible boom

Sales of the Bible are also going well, reported the Chicago Tribune on June 4. In the United States around 25 million copies of the Bible are sold annually.

One of the most successful publishers is Thomas Nelson Inc., a Christian publishing house, which has a 36% share in Bible sales. "People still have tremendous interest in this book, and they want to make it their own," said Wayne Hastings, who runs Nelson's Bible group.

In addition to the Bible, Nelson has also sold nearly 50 million copies of a series of devotional books by Texas minister Max Lucado. Books on leadership by another clergyman, John Maxwell, have sold some 13 million copies.

The article cited data from the Book Industry Study Group Inc., a publishing trade association, according to which in 2006, religious books accounted for 6.4% of all book sales. This adds up to approximately $2.4 billion on Bibles and other religious books. This figure was up 5.6% in 2006, the biggest percentage increase of any book category.

One spur to sales is the production of new forms of the Bible. Bardin and Marsee, a small publisher in Birmingham, Alabama, produces "The Outdoor Bible," a New Testament printed on folded plastic sheets, also obtainable in a camouflage bag for soldiers.

Nelson also publishes texts from the Bible in the form of magazines designed to appeal to adolescents, termed Biblezines. One of these, "Revolve," is oriented to teenage girls. Another, "Refuel," targets boys.

Radio is another field where religion is enjoying a boom, reported the weekly National Catholic Register on June 3. The article focused on Catholic stations, noting that while they lag behind the Protestant radio stations, their numbers are slowly growing.

Come October, Catholics will have an unprecedented opportunity to double the number of FM terrestrial stations operating across the country. That's when the Federal Communications Commission is opening the application window for new FM noncommercial educational (NCE) stations.

Steve Gajdosik, president of the Charleston, South Carolina-based Catholic Radio Association, told the Register that there are currently approximately 150 operating Catholic broadcast facilities in the United States. Last year 21 new stations opened.

This could increase sharply in the near future, once the Federal Communications Commission opens up applications for new FM noncommercial educational radio stations.

These new stations need content and Catholic Radio International, founded by Jeff Gardner and Tom Szyszkiewicz, was established for this purpose. Catholic Radio International launched three programs in early May, available on the Internet for stations to download. "We're trying to raise the quality of Catholic radio programming," said Szyszkiewicz.

The Internet, commented Gardner, has opened up many possibilities. "It's a great social leveler and presents an opportunity to communicate with an audience at an economy never before seen," he said.

Christ's light

On March 9, Benedict XVI urged the participants of the plenary assembly of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications to pay close attention to the role of media in shaping culture. "Undoubtedly much of great benefit to civilization is contributed by the various components of the mass media," the Pontiff commented. "Such contributions to the common good are to be applauded and encouraged."

It is also evident, the Pope continued, that a large part of what is transmitted into the homes of many millions of families is destructive. One answer to this problem is to direct the light of Christ's truth upon these realities.

"Let us strengthen our efforts to encourage all to place the lit lamp on the lamp-stand where it shines for everyone in the home, the school and society," he exhorted. A task being taken up by growing numbers of Christians active in the media.