IS BROADCASTING RIGHT FOR YOU AND YOUR MINISTRY?
Broadcasting means much more than a televised event – it means any form of communication outside of the physical walls of your building. Webcasting, simulcasting, cable TV, network television, podcasting – all are forms of broadcast, and all require investments in infrastructure and team building to achieve your desired quality and clarity of message. Only you can determine if the audience you will reach through broadcast is worth the potential changes to your ministerial style, the cost to build or outsource technical capabilities.
What is Broadcast Quality?
There are two main considerations to determine if your program is of Broadcast Quality: Technical quality and Production quality. The technical quality of the program is certainly a major concern. It is important that the audio and video be of the utmost quality that you can afford to produce. Just as important is the production quality of the broadcast. We don’t want the message to become clouded by fuzzy, noisy pictures or images that do not have appropriate lighting. We want the spoken word to be easy to understand with correct audio levels, ambiance and music or sound effects mix levels. We certainly don’t want any distortion in the audio or video.
Difference levels of technical capability can be achieved depending on the quality level you desire, the budget you have in dollars and people, and the timeline for introducing or improving your broadcast. You need enough money to fund the staff and equipment, and you should have a well-defined idea of the quality you desire with an effective plan for the proper implementation.
Broadcast Quality: The Best Technology Can’t Make Great Content
A serious concern for achieving good production quality is the creative quality of the program. It is easy to believe that the message is so powerful that the creativity of the program does not need to be of significant concern. This may be true when you have an existing audience such as current members of your church, but when you enter into broadcast, production quality becomes as critical as avoiding dead airtime. You are often communicating with people for the first time, and competing with a myriad of media for a viewer’s attention. Your content has to be captivating, or your message will be lost as the viewer loses interest.
Consider comparing new viewers to visitors entering into your Sanctuary for the first time. In the case of a viewer, they have the ability to enter for a VERY short period of time and quickly move on if you can’t captivate them with your program. They will flip the channel if they lose interest.
When a visitor walks through your doors, you want to impress them with a nice facility, and comfortable, inviting surroundings. If you have this, they may continue the journey into the sanctuary to check out a service or enjoy a non-service event such as a concert in your space. If they enjoy their first experience, they may come back next Sunday. With further success, they may become members of your congregation and bring even more of their family and friends to the campus.
Keep in mind that there are some very different things to consider in a broadcast environment. You do not control the viewer in the same way; you broadcast your message among many distractions, including competition with other broadcasts and the ease the viewer has of leaving the room or flipping the channel. Studies have shown that a viewer flipping through the channels will stop for as little as 3-8 seconds before deciding if they are going to stay or move on. You want to make sure that you captivate their attention.
Humans live in the VH1 Society – we have all become very sophisticated television watchers. Everyone expects high quality images and audio, and for the images to be interesting, varied, and to effectively tell a story. If not, we simply switch the channel to find something that meets our interest. If you feel your message is captivating by itself and that the viewer will see past your technical or creative deficiencies, you may find yourself sadly disappointed.
A Few Suggestions for Your Broadcast Team
Making sure that you have good camera shot variations and that you change your shots at appropriate times is very important. It is recommended that you change your shots every few seconds. As you identify the reasons why you want to broadcast, consider the target audience you want to attract. You will need to pay particular attention to the target audience for the program, and change camera shots at a rate that is comfortable for them. If the audience is made up of younger people, they will want more moving camera shots, quicker shot changes and dynamic camera moves. If the audience consists of older adults, they will more likely be accustomed to slower shot changes, more creative and slower camera moves and transitions that are appropriate for their viewing habits.
Some directors feel you need to change shots every 3-5 seconds regardless of the delivery of the message. This can be distracting at times. Regardless of the speed of changing your shots, instead, you should try to change shots on marks of ‘punctuation’ during the presentation. Prepare your camera shots for changes, and make those changes when the pastor pauses (such as with a comma) or at the end of a sentence (period). Changing shots with this model helps to make the message and the visual content support each other.
Selecting your transition for these shot changes is also important. If you are doing a slow musical passage, a slow dissolve is certainly appropriate. However during the pastor’s message, a three second dissolve may be distracting. Some will use “cuts” during a spoken word presentation, keeping the appropriate speed dissolves in musical segments. Whatever your preference, one question should always be asked: Does your transition help or hinder the communication of the message?
Another important question for you to consider is ‘What is the ministry’s mission and how does it fit with broadcast?’ If your goal is to find seekers, a traditional church service or sermon may not be the best vehicle to do this. Consider creating a program that entertains and shows God’s ability to change people’s lives through examples, showing people stories they can relate to. An example may be interviews with couples who have had relationship problems and how the ministry helped them. If your mission is to attract children and their families, create a program that shows the exciting activities of your youth ministry. Consider doing a non-traditional program- maybe a news magazine program, docu-dramas or the like. It’s not that there isn’t a place for a traditional ‘sermon’ based program; there certainly is, but consider other formats if they fit your ministry’s goals.
What is the Financial Model required to support your goals?
Appropriate funding is important for a successful broadcast, but the amount of money depends on your requirements. Purchasing airtime for a national broadcast is expensive. If you were to broadcast on a local low-power television or cable television channel, the airtime would be less expensive. A webcast will be even less expensive.
Consider building a business case for your program that addresses the following questions:
• What are the sources of the funding?
• How long will it be funded?
• What is the expected result of the program?
• Is it expected to become ‘self-funded’ at some point, and if so, when?
• What do you hope to get from the expenditures (in specific qualitative and quantitative measures)?
Additional questions you may ask before beginning broadcast are: do you want to increase the number of people viewing your message? Do you want giving to increase for a specific program? Do you want tithing to increase for those who do not attend church regularly? Do you want to reach the elderly who are unable to attend services? Do you want to reach those whose native language is not English? Do you want to extend your education outreach into non-local areas? Do you want to provide broadcast experience to your internal resources so they are able to take on bigger broadcast responsibilities down the road?
Have you had requests from an under-served group for broadcasting your message? Do you want to partner with another group to communicate a message? Do you want “special gifts” to increase, such as bequests from those who do not attend your services regularly? You may want to treat this program as a business venture and be able to clearly articulate and explain these goals to your supporters and people resources before you begin.
What are the operating costs associated with a program?
Equipment is expensive, and under spending is easy to do and either can cause significant issues. If you purchase inexpensive equipment and it does not provide the technical quality that an audience expects, then the program becomes a failure. This ultimately makes this inexpensive investment very expensive, because you have not been able to return the investment appropriately. Alternatively, be careful to not overspend for the market size and delivery channel – or you will run out of funds and/or inappropriately use funds that could have been spent on other, more important things. You don’t want to end up with equipment that only meets some of your needs, and you don’t want to end up with a solution that can’t be scaled for future needs. Finding a technology partner is important to help with these decisions. Hopefully you and your ministry find a service provider that understands your church’s goals and budget – not one that is only interested in a quick equipment sale. A vendor who has experience in broadcast facilities, live events and deadlines is critical to your success with technology. Be careful to fully evaluate your vendor and talk to references who are doing projects like yours.
What’s Beyond Audio and Video?
If your program is sermon based, and the sermon is captured during a traditional service, do you have an appropriate lighting system to capture high quality images? Overall light level is certainly important, but other issues are just as important. What is the color of your lighting? How much light comes through your stained-glass windows? How even is your lighting across the platform? And one commonly overlooked item- do you have enough backlight? An appropriate lighting system and the testing equipment to use after the system is installed needs to be part of your equipment budget.
Without a good lighting system, even expensive cameras will make marginal pictures, while an excellent lighting system can make less expensive cameras create higher quality images.
Does your platform or stage have an interesting background that will strengthen the look captured on camera? One common situation is a platform that has a choir seated behind the pastor. If the choir members are intently listening to the pastor’s message they may be helpful in creating interesting background behind the pastor, but what do you do if a member is inattentive or falls asleep? Careful consideration of the background elements and the lighting for these background elements needs to be considered.
Impact on Your People
The most important part of the costs of a successful program is the people that make it happen. Do you have the appropriate talent on staff or available from volunteer members? It takes creative minds as producers to visualize how the program will look and how it should be executed. It also takes talented creative and technical people to round out the producer’s team to set the shots, record the content, edit the content (if the program is not live) and to deliver the content to the broadcast outlet.
This team of people is the most vital part of the program to ensure its success. When designing a program it is important that you identify this team of people, and truly understand their capabilities. You may find that some of your staff members have experience in television programming, and these people are certainly a great resource to harness.
Consider looking to an outside producer to help you with your program, especially in the early stages. Bringing in a professional and paying for their services can help you to ‘boot-strap’ your program quickly and efficiently. This professional can also work with your staff and leaders to brainstorm on your project, and may bring additional concerns to you and your project before you are up against air-date deadlines.
It is also important to make sure you have a ‘deep’ team of people to work on the program. You will need Leaders and Do-ers – they are not one in the same person. You don’t want to burn anyone out (especially not a volunteer) with putting too much on their plate. You also want to make sure that you have several people involved in the project, so that if one person leaves the team for whatever reason, you have people available who can easily fill their shoes. Hopefully the viewers will not notice any change in the quality of your program along the way.
Now with a better understanding of all of the elements to produce a successful program- the creative, technical and staffing concerns, you are ready to put together your plans. When you have a successful program on the air, whether it is actually over the air, over cable or over the web, you will be serving your ministry to a wider audience. The next steps are measuring your success with whatever appropriate metrics you have- response to phone calls, inquiries to purchase CD/DVD copies, prayer requests or downloads and hits to your website. Keep in mind that if you do your planning well, you will have a better chance of success in spreading the word of your ministry via broadcasting.