Religious broadcasters under pressure
Religious broadcasters aren’t going postal, like their ecclesiastical print brethren. But they are under similar grinding pressure.
They’re squeezed between aging audiences, economy-driven declines in ad revenue and donations and competition from free, Web-based audio and video.
Paul Creasman, associate professor of communications at Southern Wesleyan University in Central, S.C. told the Religion News Service:
The industry is at a crossroads. The audience is dwindling, and they have to figure out what to do. But the Web is not the answer because older audiences don’t use the Internet . . . and younger audiences will go to the Web for content, but they’ll probably be less likely to donate.
So broadcasters are cutting back, postponing investment and otherwise trying to hold on. the Religion News Service reported:
- Christian radio giant Salem Communications sold four stations, cut 10 percent of its workforce and trimmed 5% off all salaries. Salem’s stock prices still tumbled 74 percent last year to less than $1 per share.
- Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN), the nation’s largest Christian TV network, has laid off workers and scrambled to fill programming holes as T.D. Jakes, Joyce Meyer and other big-name ministries cut costs by producing fewer shows.
- Focus on the Family, which has produced James Dobson’s radio show since 1977, has eliminated about 450 jobs (30 percent of its workforce) since 2004, including 200 job cuts since November.
Content sources have also been drying up, and not just for TBN. Adelle Banks of Religion News Service wrote last month:
. . . fewer megachurches are involved in TV and radio ministry; the percentage of megachurches with a radio ministry dropped from 44 percent in 2000 to 24 percent in 2008. Likewise, the percentage with television ministries dropped from 38 percent to 23 percent.
For years, Christian broadcasters have speculated that part of the future inevitably lay in moving their content online. As with newspapers, the prevailing wisdom is adapt to the digital age or die. And as with print newspaper Web services, online isn’t paying current bills.
Otherwise, they’re experimenting with formats, launching new online ministries and hoping for enough in donations to keep them afloat.
Again from Religion News Service:
“You don’t find businesses making sacrifices to make sure advertising dollars are paid to broadcasters. That’s not part of their paradigm,” said Craig Parshall, senior vice president of the National Religious Broadcasters, a 1,400-member organization that held its annual convention last weekend (Feb. 7-10) in Nashville.
“But individual families are willing to be sacrificial because of the mission of Christian broadcasting.”
Are they? Still? Anyone who has worked at a newspaper until it closed its doors can recall that belief that things would somehow continue as in the past, until they didn’t.
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