The Great Television Content Rush Gets a Bit … Purer

17
Hitting the Breaks

Way back yonder, folks came out West to find a new life, raise families and … well, who am I kidding, get stinkin’ rich. They’d travel to the gold fields of California or Colorado or the Yukon, visions of shiny yellow metal flashing in their nugget-hungry noggins. Some of them indeed struck it rich. Many others … well, they bought their pans and shovels and worked for years, only to come up empty. There might be gold in them thar hills, but finding it … that proved to be pretty tricky.

The world of television feels a little like that these days.

There’s a television content rush underway right now—a stampede to mine American homes for their attention, adoration and, most importantly, money.

Netflix was really the first prospector to try to overturn the television status quo. The service, then mainly known as a platform for other people’s content, started pushing out award-winning shows of its own such as House of Cards and Orange is the New Black. Amazon and Hulu soon joined the rush, breaking into public consciousness with buzzy hits of their own.

Arguably, these streaming “networks” define what television is these days far more than the traditional broadcast networks of ABC, NBC, CBS and Fox. Just look at this weekend’s contenders for Emmy awards: Netflix nabbed 91 nominations—second only to HBO. Hulu, propelled by its breakout The Handmaid’s Tale, scored 18 noms, while Amazon notched 16. Of the seven shows nominated for best television drama, four come not from traditional television channels, but from streaming sites.

Have these companies struck gold? Maybe. But if so, they’re spending a whole lot of cash to find it. Netflix says it’ll spend $6 billion this year on new content—despite being $4.8 billion in debt already—and plans to hike its spending to $7 billion next year. Amazon Prime’s cash outlay is an estimated $4.5 billion, and Hulu’s budgeted $2.5 billion for its programs.

That’s a remarkable cash outlay, particularly considering the questionable returns. Back in the ancient days of broadcast television, execs knew how much a hit show was bringing in, based on ratings and advertising dollars. Netflix et al. don’t care about ratings and they don’t solicit advertisers: They’re only interested in subscribers. And just how many people subscribe for one hit show is an inexact science.

No matter: The rush is only getting more frenzied. YouTube’s fostering its own scripted content channel. Apple wants to fund its own original content, too—budgeting $1 billion to acquire and produce television shows over the next year. Sony’s PlayStation—primarily a video game platform up to this point—also has its own fledgling television service (though it admittedly may be on the way out, given that its one-and-only original show was recently cancelled).

And now the faith community has a player in this television content rush, too.

“We know the faith and family audience as good as anyone,” says PureFlix spokesman David Migdal, “and with original programming, we’re able to customize content for the wants and needs of our audience.”

Pureflix.com, a subsidiary of Pure Flix Entertainment, the studio behind such films as God’s Not Dead, presumably isn’t funneling billions into its efforts. But nor is it really a prospector-come-lately, either. Since 2015, pureflix.com has been developing its own slate of faith-friendly television content. The newest show, Hitting the Breaks, is a Christian sitcom—the service’s first—and stars Pure Flix co-founder (and God’s Not Dead star) David A.R. White and includes guest spots from everyone from Tim Tebow to Carrot Top. Oh, and Burt Reynolds lends his sonorous voice to the show, as well.

And PureFlix isn’t staying put. This November, it’ll unveil what may be the first Christian soap opera (Or as the folks at PureFlix like to refer to it as, a “hope opera”). Titled Hilton Head Island, it’ll focus on a family that owns a television station on … well, Hilton Head Island.

These PureFlix shows aren’t aspiring to join the ranks of prestige television just yet. But they do provide a certain alternative to what’s available in this burgeoning television landscape. And I think that’s a good thing.

Our screens have never been so saturated with content as they are now, both in terms of just the sheer level of programming and the sex and violence found in that programming. The television gold rush is at its peak. As such, it’s nice to see a company give faith-based viewers options.

Will PureFlix strike it rich? That remains to be seen. But as the Good Book says, there are things more precious than gold.

Who wrote this?

Paul Asay has been writing for Plugged In since 2007 and loves superheroes and finding God in unexpected places. In addition, Paul has also written several books, with his newest—Burning Bush 2.0—recently published by Abingdon Press. When Paul’s not reviewing movies, he hikes with his wife, Wendy, runs marathons with his grown kids, Colin and Emily, and beats back unruly houseplants. Follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.

Have something to say? Leave a comment.

bobed 3 months ago
I do not think that PureFlix will be successful. Maybe there's a small market out there of people who want clean and wholesome entertainment, but I think that they are a minority and that time has passed. People want to be shocked and frightened and blasted with vulgarity. It's just the way things are today.
seraph_unsung 3 months ago
Respectfully, I am curious as to how you reconcile that statement with where you said this ( http://pluggedin.focusonthefamily.com/christians-struggle-make-good-movies/ ) :

Christians do not struggle to make good movies, or successful ones. Christians only struggle to break into the mainstream market. God's Not Dead was good. War Room was good. The Case for Christ was great. Do You Believe was great. The Passion of the Christ, October Baby, Narnia, Son of God, Beyond the Mask, Woodlawn, Gavin Stone, Hacksaw Ridge (nominated for an Oscar - though I didn't like it for its violence), Courageous, I'm Not Ashamed... "

And I think you make a good point with your opening sentence: Christians are capable of making financially successful films, regardless of whether the films are "good" (which tends to be subjective and sometimes even controversial).

God's Not Dead?  Huge box office relative to its budget. http://www.boxofficemojo.com/movies/?id=godsnotdead.htm

The same goes for Heaven is for Real ( http://www.boxofficemojo.com/movies/?id=heavenisforreal.htm ), War Room ( http://www.boxofficemojo.com/movies/?id=warroom2015.htm ), and Miracles from Heaven ( http://www.boxofficemojo.com/movies/?id=miraclesfromheaven.htm ).

One might then say, "Those aren't television shows," which is true.  The Bible miniseries--regardless of whether or not any of us liked or disliked it, and I am not looking to start an argument--was remarkably successful, both in terms of audience ratings ( http://ew.com/article/2013/03/04/bible-ratings/ -- note that the first image is presumably of Adam and Eve, which is not "dirty" or "inappropriate" but is something worthy of knowing about ahead of time) and of DVD sales ( http://ew.com/article/2013/04/08/the-bible-dvd/ ).

Christians aren't by any means universally terrible at knowing how to market to their own demographic, and I think PureFlix might have a chance at being successful because it's aiming at a very different niche than I expect something like HBO or FX to aim at. But as @Inkfeather1 implied, I do think that PureFlix will need to balance the "we're family-friendly!" aspects of their marketing with an emphasis that their products will be of worthwhile quality and not just disposable entertainment that is neither inherently offensive nor intellectually/aesthetically appealing.  And of course I'm not saying those things are mutually inclusive.
bobed 3 months ago
Yes, Christian movies can be successful. Christian tv shows, though? Do you know how much money has to go into the production of a good quality tv show week by week? After a very short time, it can become just as expensive as any movie. Can Christian audiences, in this day and age, sustain that kind of expense? Will they even try? 
charitysplace 3 months ago
Roma Downey and her husband tried aiming a high-quality show with a multi-million dollar budget at Christian audiences... and it failed on a spectacular level, both because they knew not their audience (they made it too violent) and because Christians showed no interest in supporting it. It was called "A.D." it revolved around the events immediately after Christ's death (with Peter as a main character) and it had excellent scripts, good actors, and a high budget. And ABC canceled it after one season because people simply did not watch it.
Anonymous 3 months ago
I remember that show. Too bad it only averaged 6.5 million viewers across 12 episodes :(. It was actually pretty good. Both in quality and in acting. Though I think it was on NBC not ABC.
charitysplace 3 months ago
You're right, it was ABC. :)
bobed 3 months ago
I respectfully disagree. AD and its predecessor, The Bible, were about the same in terms of violent content - yet one was wildly successful, while the other was not. I don't think we can ascribe AD's failure to its creators not knowing their audience.
charitysplace 3 months ago
I do.

The Bible appealed on a mass level to Christians and non, because it presented itself as a 'historical account.' And, for the most part, it wasn't storytelling so much as narrative scripture interpretation. A.D. was 90% fictional but based on Biblical accounts; it also contained some 'hard' truths from a religious standpoint -- things that would make nonChristian audiences uncomfortable. It's core audience would be the homeschool conservative Christian crowd -- the same crowd who would balk at the beatings,  scenes of graphic crucifixion, stranglings, and stonings. Also the same crowd who tends to have a problem with anyone 'adding on' to scripture. So yes, by catering to and comparing it to 'Game of Thrones' (in trying to excite young people, whom they assume require intense violence in everything) they did not know their market. Moreover, however, there IS no market. "Christians" do not tune in out of moral obligation to "Christian" entertainment -- they choose what they want to watch based on personal interest, just like everyone else.
bobed 3 months ago
""Christians" do not tune in out of moral obligation to "Christian" entertainment."
Well, maybe YOU don't...
Evan Weisensel 3 months ago
Bobed... What did we say about being mean to other people on the internet? :)
charitysplace 3 months ago
"""Christians" do not tune in out of moral obligation to "Christian" entertainment."
Well, maybe YOU don't..."

If they did, would not A.D. have been a success?
Anonymous 3 months ago
"""Christians" do not tune in out of moral obligation to "Christian" entertainment."
Well, maybe YOU don't...""
Oh, yeah, I remember that quote from Jesus. "Thou shalt watch all Christian entertainment". 
I have no qualms about not enjoying God's Not Dead, or thinking that War Room was boring. I am a Christian, but I am also looking for decent movies to watch on Friday nights. I don't have to like anything that the Christian industry puts out. However, I am going to watch the Case for Christ when I get a chance, that one actually interests me. 

- AREM
Inkfeather1 . 3 months ago
A couple articles ago you wondered why Christian media wasn't doing so well. Well, now you provide the answer: They don't have to. This Pureflix series hasn't even come out yet and already you are lauding it as a clean and pure alternative to mainstream media. Companies like Pureflix will never make better stories when they know all they have to do is make something without swear words or sex and they'll have Christian audiences eating out of the palm of their hand. They have no motivation not to be lazy in their storytelling. Clean and pure? Sure. But a true alternative to the interesting characters and stories of many mainstream shows? Not even close.
BrandonSmithAZ 3 months ago
You said "hasn't even come out yet" but it came out months ago.  I know because I already watched it.  It was similar in storyline and production quality to Disney Channel shows, so if you want to say Disney is "lazy" then so be it, but there's obviously a market for both, as Pureflix and Disney are both in business still.
Inkfeather1 . 3 months ago
No, it's not coming out until November according to everything I've found online. Did you perhaps watch "Hitting the Breaks"? That's another PureFlix show. Disney is absolutely capable of being lazy, and nearly every one of it's TV shows is lazily done honestly.
Anonymous 3 months ago
It's nice that they're making a streaming service that is family friendly. Hopefully, they make their sitcoms funny. However, I won't be getting PureFlix seeing how I have Netflix. Most of the shows I watch are cartoons all of which are family friendly anyway. So in my case getting an entirely different streaming service would be pointless.
Evan Weisensel 3 months ago
I sincerely hope that PureFlix learns that it's effort and care that makes a good show and not just Generic Christian platitudes, Us Vs. Them ideology, and shallow "Hello my fellow kids" humor. Because Christian media will never advance unless people realize that God calls us to excellence, not just spitting out generic schlock that gets a pass because it's "Clean and Christian." In other words, Hitting the Breaks looks like everything I can stand about modern Christian media (And PureFlix) in general congealed into a tangible grey mass of blah.

Take note, PureFlix, if you want to succeed and be respected, make more stuff like Case for Christ, and less stuff like God's not Dead and Hitting the Breaks.

Signed Yours Truly, Evan.