Okay… we established problem #1. We Christians are failing to live out the Gospel – more from ignorance than outright rebellion, I think. So what’s the second problem that God has really laid on my heart? It goes like this…
Last year the average American kid watched 3 hours and 15 minutes of television each and every day. When we add in time spent at the computer, listening to music and playing video games, the total amount of electronic media consumed by the average American kid topped five hours – a new record. Keep in mind this is only the average, so roughly half of American kids consumed MORE than 5 hours of media per day.
Media is saturating our kids’ lives more than ever before. And the growing portability of media (watching movies on our iPods… ‘beaming’ Nickelodeon into our mini-vans via satellite) will only increase this trend. This isn’t good. But this is only half the problem.
The other half is this: After 20 years of steady increase, the production of Christian kids media is now in decline. Why? For a detailed look at the state of the Christian video biz, read my posts entitled “So you want to make your own Christian videos?” But in a nutshell, the media world has changed radically in the last 10 years, and Christian producers have failed to keep up. We have fallen off the media wagon.
Christian kids media sprang out of the Christian music biz in the late 70s, as brand-new Christian record labels realized there was a market for kids music as well. Christian bookstores were just beginning to expand beyond Bibles and church supplies, and contemporary Christian music was a huge driver of that growth. Along came Christian kids albums like Bullfrogs and Butterflies and The Music Machine (which, I believe, was the first Christian kids album to sell more than 1 million copies). When VCRs took off in the late 1980s, Christian music labels followed along with the first Christian videos for kids, leading to Focus on the Family’s ground-breaking series, McGee & Me, and then, ultimately, VeggieTales in the early 1990s.
The combination of Christian music, kids videos like McGee & Me and VeggieTales and bestselling books like the Left Behind books and The Purpose-Driven Life made the Christian bookstore market, by the mid-90s, one of the hottest corners of the retail world. Heck, Jeffrey Katzenberg even showed up at a Christian Booksellers convention in the late 90s, planning his release strategy for The Prince of Egypt. Christian bookstores were hot!
Well, that was then, this is now. As I wrote in my prior postings, Christian retailing has been in decline since about 1999. New products from well-known ‘brands’ like Max Lucado or VeggieTales still sell (though not as well as in the late 90s), but everything else has fallen off rapidly. Plus, macro-changes in consumption and distribution patterns are disrupting entire industries. The music industry is falling to pieces. Overall DVD sales declined last year for the first time ever, with kids DVDs falling off much faster and further than movies or TV series boxed sets. Much of the space that used to be dedicated to kids video in Wal-Mart is now filled with video games. Christian bookstores now have so little foot traffic that launching new kids projects at retail is nearly impossible.
The world is changing rapidly. Unfortunately, the Christian world isn’t keeping up. Producers continue to look at VeggieTales as the model, wanting to “party like it’s 1999.” But Wal-Mart only wants products that are proven “hits,” and Christian bookstores no longer have the capability of producing hits. So Max Lucado and Joel Osteen keep selling books, and Big Idea can sell at least a few more VeggieTales videos (until the kids video section at Wal-Mart disappears entirely), but everything else is either dead, or dying.
The cruel irony of all this is that more Christians than ever before have a passion to get into the film business. Kids that grew up on VeggieTales are enrolling in art schools and animation programs. Kids inspired by The Passion of the Christ are showing up at film schools. At Jellyfish, we’ve identified no fewer than 15 Christian colleges with full-time film programs. Together they will graduate 200 to 300 Christian filmmakers this year, who, collectively, have nowhere to go and nothing to do. So they send me emails, saying, “I want to do what you did… how do I start?” And I have to break it to them: “Don’t look at VeggieTales as your model. It won’t work.” And so half of them end up back at their home churches, running the Powerpoint slides during the worship service.
So here is the even crueler irony: Kids are consuming more media than ever. Kids need Christian alternatives more than ever. More Christian college students want to create Christian media than ever. But they can’t. The system is broken. We’ve got young kids with the need, and young filmmakers with the passion. But there is no economic system to make it work.
Why? Because there is no platform for Christian kids media.
“Platform? Whadya mean?”
Look at the kids music business. It’s dead. In the 90s there were multiple kids record labels, inside and outside the Christian world. Today almost all of them are gone. You can’t make any money in kids music anymore.
Except… wait… the number one album of 2007 was a kids album. (High School Musical 2.) And the number one tour in the last six months was a kids tour. (Hannah Montana.) Hmm… how did that work?
High School Musical 2 and Hanna Montana have a platform. The Disney Channel. Kids everywhere know that music and, even more importantly, have a connection with the personalities behind it, because it was all over the Disney Channel. In fact, when the #1 album isn’t a kids album from a Disney or Nickelodeon-backed artist, it is quite often an artist that was launched on American Idol. Why? Because American Idol is a massive launch platform – a place to find new music and get to know the personalities behind it. Are they always the best artists out there? Of course not. But there the ones we know about, because they have a platform.
So what is the platform for the launch of Christian kids content? Well, throughout the 80s and 90s it was the Christian bookstore market. New kids projects were launched straight to retail. But that doesn’t work anymore. So what’s the platform for Christian kids content going forward? Well, American Idol isn’t going to launch any overtly Christian singers (overlooking Carrie “Jesus-take-the-wheel” Underwood for the moment). And Disney and Nickelodeon aren’t going to launch overtly Christian properties on their networks. So how will any new Christian kids content be launched? What’s the platform?
There isn’t one.
That’s the problem. Christian kids media is dying because there is no platform for new artists – new ideas. This is problem #2.
See how they interweave? Problem #1 – we need to raise a generation of Christians who know what it means to live out the Gospel. Problem #2 – Christian kids media is dying for lack of a platform. Given that the average American kid consumes 5+ hours of media per year, the best way to raise biblical literacy and help parents pass on their Christian faith to their kids is through the media they are already consuming. BUT… without an economically-viable platform for the care and feeding of said media, it can’t be done.
So we need to build a platform.
And that is what I have been working on for the last three years. (At least in every moment I’m not in a recording booth talking like a vegetable).
It’s coming along slowly… but surely.
ooooh, but its fun to talk like a vegetable. 🙂
Awesome Phil, this is so right on, I can’t to see what you have been working on 🙂
Wow, this is super exciting! I can’t wait to hear the rest of your plan.
It’s also exciting to hear that there are record numbers of Christians who want to work in the film industry and/or create Christian entertainment. Super cool.
And you do that quite often, don’t you? Have you or the producers of VeggieTales ever considered phasing out your characters so you would have more time to devote to this important project? Not that I or the other fans what to lose Bob, but it looks like a good idea for you.
Oh, the suspense! I can’t wait to see what you’ve come up with. Christian TV channels seem to always fail (or not penetrate very far). The Internet is wide open, but then there’s the problem of marketing and monetization. I huess I’ll have to wait and see.
Fantastic post. You’ve got me on the edge of my seat! Can’t wait to hear more!
This idea sounds excellent.
Phil: may I suggest that when you finish “pulling back the curtain”, you name a few prayer requests for us regarding this “platform”?
I really like where this is headed…
I’m so excited to see what is coming! Your analysis of the situation is dead on. Praise God that help is on the way!
A future Jelly-head,
Wow this sounds awesome! I can’t wait.
Ah but you’ve revealed the sad truth here. Makes me sorta depressed. But I am very very eager to see what you guys have been up to!
OK you got me excited! Can’t wait to see what’s up!
I hadn’t realized the extent of this problem! It’s cool to know you know, though, and plan on doing ‘something.’ I eagerly await your next entry!
I still say go to the podcasting/Internet video sharing channel. That seems to be the wave of the future. Even better is that the elites hate it because they can’t control it. Give away free content as evangelism and advertising, and make money off the downloads. Google Adwords and similar products can serve as advertising. Really, instead of independent people trying to do this on their own, they need to have the churches and denominations back them so that the quality can be high quality, well promoted, and cover its losses for the years it will take to become commercially viable. So these kids making slide showsfor their churches can be put to good use!
This is not unprecedented by the way: the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America used to put out Christian films in the 50s and 60s: Davey and Goliath and Children’s Heroes of the Bible for example. (I guess they stopped when ordaining homosexual priests and marching with pro – abortion groups became a bigger priority.) All that is necessary is for someone to go to the denominations – and the larger individual churches – and let them know that this is the place to put their resources: Myspace, Youtube, etc. And once you have a fully established product on the Internet, that would facilitate getting the works distributed in the (dying) DVD and CD market.
The best part of this, however, is that the Internet is wide open. As great as Christian CDs and DVDs (or cassettes and VHS tapes) were, even after they began showing up in Wal – Mart (just as the medium was petering out as you stated) and the Veggies went to NBC it was still mostly marketed to and patronized by Christians: preaching to the choir. But create a major Internet portal and the unsaved will view it, especially if you advertise heavily. If the quality of the product is high enough, it could be a MAJOR evangelistic tool.
It would also be cool if the effort gave people the ability to submit their work, copyright it, show it, and if it is good enough the pros could take it and “remake it” with better resources and professional expertise.
Phil you are so smart! You analyzed the entire situation and came up with 2 problems. The problem isn’t getting it out there, it’s that there’sno platform to get it out there. You are so right! You are amazingly smart. Let’s hope veggietales stays on top.
So, Phil may not be the next Disney. But he may launch the next Diseny Channel?
That has possibilities.
YAY! Platform= great plan 🙂
My pastor is kinda talking about a similar thing in ministry…
he calls it the “space elevator.”
Have you read about this with NASA? The “for-real” space elevator is an incredible idea- you can check it out online.
But, the spiritual space elevator that Pastor Bob is hoping for has to do with being a launching pad (platform) for missionaries, worship leaders, pastors of every kind, evangelists, artists, etc. A homebase where we get trained up, discover our identity in Christ, live it out practically as a church body (the difference between just attending seminary, or attending seminary + really experiencing a practicum—- he always says it’s like going to school to be a mechanic, and taking all of your classes on a computer instead of getting your hands dirty in the garage), then get commissioned to go where we are called!
Pretty neat to think of Jellyfish as a launching pad for Christian media artists/creators!!! WHOO-HOO, this is good stuff.
Small Screen flix is the platform of the future. Ipods, Iphones, smartphones, small laptops, watchphones etc. Small screens on small devices.
People are listening and watching and reading on small digital devices. The 5inch disc will soon die. Pendrives are built into our watches, our phones etc bluetooth and usb transfer avi /divx/mpg movies in less than a minute.
Vast fiber networks will soon connect us all, which allow file transfers the sizer of a movie to be transferred/downloaded in a few minutes. Netflix and Blockbuster, as well as Movielink now offer VOD…wacth when you want, where you want…no disc needed. Download.
My agent in Nashville (Music and Lit) tells me CD audio sales are down 60%. It’s all downloads. Digital, transportable, transferable files. Kindle and Sony Ebooks gain traction. The convergence appears on the horizon.
The platform is self-publishing. Digitally.
The critical component for a successful platform, if I understand you correctly, is getting to critical mass. If there are enough kids watching the X channel (or Web site), the content providers will come. If there is enough good contents, the kids will come.
It’s a bootstrap problem, but since you already have a leg up as the VeggieTales guy you might be able to solve it.
BeHatzlacha (= good luck, in Hebrew),
Does this mean you’ll start the Vischer Channel?
I hope you know that was a joke.
There’s more meat in the blog lately than in the last three sermons at my church.
I agree, the next questions will be, how can WE be involved?
I used the red balloon analogy with my kids to explain how Christians are either inflating by being fed the Word, or deflating by feeding others the Word, and only useless when laying inert doing neither.
It led to a fantastic discussion with both my 5 year old son and 3 year old daughter, regarding Mr. Lunt wishing to engorge himself on Cheese Curls, and the Cheese Curls wanting to devour Mr. Lunt.
JOHN Chapter 6 was never so clear, and easily taught by a parent.
AMEN, brother; keep going!
Phil, don’t you see? God said the world is going to get worst before it gets better. So the more people who refuse or don’t care or don’t know about God, um… I mean God is coming back, and where’re seeing the world change right before our eyes from good to worst! So in other words Be ready for God’s return! He’s coming back! 🙂
God commanded His people to “rule the earth and subdue it” – which we, as Christians, are not exactly doing at the moment. We can’t sit around just waiting for Jesus to come back. Say my daddy goes off to another country for a year or two and leaves me in charge – when he comes back, I don’t want our house to be in total disarray, my brothers and sister running around in complete confusion and chaos. That’s not what would make my daddy proud. When Jesus comes back, I think He expects us to have taken good care of what He entrusted us with and we’re not there yet. There’s still work to do, and I’m grateful to God for guys like Phil Vischer who have a plan for expanding the kingdom and beginning to take back the mountain of children’s media. I’m excited to see where this is headed!
Mr. Vischer, you certainly know how to build anticipation. 8]
Ya, Sorry, your right. I’m glad too that Vischer is doing this. Sorry. 🙁
By the way, you people are talking about platforms like Nickelodeon and Disney, Well what about Qubo, isn’t that a platform or soon to be platform?
I know this has NOTHING to do with this article, and I’m really sorry, but I just wanted to say something. While I was reading your book, I learned that you do the voice of Bob the tomatoe. So, I watched a veggie Tales video and looked at your face on the cover, trying to imagine you talking when Bob spoke. Let me tell you that was very hard. Now on you website it show the many OTHER characters you do the voice of and I tried those. Let me tell you, I have a headache.
PS Does your voice (when you talk normally) sound like Bob’s?
Phil, I get enough weekly suspense watching “Lost”, I don’t need anymore. C’mon, Man, tell us what’s up!
(But seriously, I think whatever you are doing will be great, and I want to be a praying part of it.)
Our five kids are being raised in a Christian home, but only three of them have embraced the Faith personally so far. (The six year old is teetering on the brink and the “baby” is three.) Thank you for supporting Christian parents as we fulfill our ministry; and for realizing that lots of Christian households are full of “the unsaved” if they have kids in them. It’s OK to preach to the choir members’ children…
…and to the choir; I have been a Christian for almost 20 years but I don’t know if I have gotten through Sidney and Norman once without crying.
Hey Phil!-Off subject- next time you do music, like your Christian cd hits, have you-Bob-sing the song “I’m not cool”! I love hearing that song and I think it’d be cool that Veggie tales sings that! Plus I can’t find that CD anywhere, so please, Lord willing, take consideration of this! 🙂 🙂 😀 😀
Great stuff! Very exciting!
Great presentations at NRB – thanks for sharing!
i am excited!!!
sounds good to me, I can’t wait to hear more
Wow! Way to build suspense! I wonder what kind of platform you have in mind? Hard to imagine creating a platform that would compete directly against Disney or Nickelodeon. Or American Idol for that matter. (Oh, wouldn’t it be fun to see a VT spoof of Americal Idol?)
In one of your “So You Want To…” posts, didn’t you talk about online content? Is that the type of platform you’re looking at?
Oooh…totally off subject; I LOVE your quote from David Denby! I may have to “borrow” that one….
Hey people, do any of you work in Big Idea?
I will definetly pray for this. Am very excited about the idea for a platform. Many girls I know want to launch into the Christian network of singing, dancing, directing etc. Yes, we need a platform. Before its too late. P.S. Thanks Maegan, cuz I was thinking like “friend” and now you’ve given me a new perspective!
Phil is my hero…
Right On Phil! I have been hoping for more christian media for my child! Please keep on doing what you are & I will keep my boy watching veggietales! Which he loves! Especiallly Little Joe & Jonah! Thank you!
Phil, you are right in identifying the problem. It’s also happening in major films and books.
We are in a transition stage between going to the store/theatre to downloading. Downloading is the future, but getting word out about your website or films is still costly. More and more people are using TIVO or uninterupted channels to watch. Most os us have disabled pop-ups on our computers too.
The good news is: you can target your specific audience for less money on the web and there’s no shipping charges or plastic cassets. Better access to more entertainment than ever.
The question is now, how to notify your fans of new products? And how do you entice new fans?
Hello, my name is Jason, i’m 13, and i don’t know if you read all these little comments, but i just wanted you to know that you are one of the greatest examples of a true man of God. I grew up with veggietales (my parents had to buy a second copy of ‘Where’s God when i’m s-s-scared?’ cause i wore out our first copy, which is still my favorite episode, but i have to admit the wonderful wizard of Ha’s is genious), I watch them the week they come out (even though i have not seen pirates yet). I know some people think it’s weird that i still watch that stuff, but i don’t just watch it for it’s spiritual content, but also for the animation! I’ve read “Me, Myself, and Bob”, and i just cannot believe how you did that kind of stuff. My Dad was accually the one that bought the book, but i was the one that dusted of the shelf and began to read. And now my dad’s reading it ( But i don’t know if he’s finished it), hey and umm… i know you are like old enough to be my father, but you have my e-mail, so… maybe we could talk sometime. Well, i gotta go, but remember! God made you special, and he loves you very much. Bye!!!
yorkali.comPhil is my hero too 🙂 Regarding media, and the gospel. Phil is as usual definitely on point.
I recently wrote an article on my blog ( http://tinyurl.com/2fxval ) that shares Phil’s view, somewhat. We have truly lost our way.
BUT! I wanna do some platform building! I would be more than willing to help!
I’ve got no Idea where this is headed but when Part 4 or Part 5 comes,……..
I’ve got no Idea where this is headed but when Part 4 or Part 5 comes,……..Oh yeah!
So, why can’t Christian channels like TBN or Daystar step up and show religious kids content? That’s the only thing that will work if they can’t get Nick or Disney to show it.
Then there’s always the ‘Net and torrent sites if you aren’t worried about “making a living” and you want it just to be out there and watched.
video games! is it video games?
Amen! God speed!
I think that if there was a network for Christian Kid’s programming, with VeggieTales on often, we could be getting somewhere. I also think making VeggieTales DVD season box sets would be a good idea.
As a Catholic, I admire how Protestants have always had the sense to embrace the new technologies–or at least seem to be better at it–than Catholicism, which tends to act slowly in world events. But even then, it always seems to be “one step behind” (e.g., whatever is current in “Christian rock” is usually a few years behind what’s currently popular), so you’re right on target with that assessment.
And, again, from my freshman college students, I’ve seen what a sea change there really has been in the past 10 years. My students are totally clueless even about pop culture from the 80s and 90s, much less anything substantial like religion.
We cannot succeed in engaging the culture if we’re always one or two steps behind it.
We have to be able to anticipate the next big thing.
Big Idea pioneered computer animation, so you of all people have the background to do it.
Very cool concept. Can’t wait for more info.
As for the person who asked, “So, why canâ€™t Christian channels like TBN or Daystar step up and show religious kids content”; for some reason they seem to have trouble thinking of shows that don’t insult the intelligence of anyone under the age of 5, no offense. When I was younger, I loved watching shows like “Gospel Bill” (which I still catch on Daystar), “Colby’s Clubhouse” (I’m 21 and still like it), Psalty (though I never liked the costume), etc., and even shows like “Just the Facts” (an acquired taste; when I was younger, considered it a bit over my head).
But for some reason, the producers seemed to revert to the “only appeal to preschoolers” logic, and older kids seem to have gotten left out. This probably would be something to consider.
the interesting things about reading this article is that I noticed the decline, it just never made sense until today, as a kid we had records from the 70s and tapes from the 80s, and we were buying and renting Mcgee and me, and I fell in love with Veggietales (not literally) and that left me wanting more, I had seen a little bibleman and was curious but by the time I thought maybe I should see what that’s about it was no longer there, and I wanted more, I’ve wondered why did Mcgee and me quit and where Is the next Prince of Egypt? it certainly wasn’t Joseph the king of dreams. and I’m in the same boat as all the other my age, although I haven’t had the money or the local media college to go to college, I want to, and I want to maybe go into the Film industry. I’m thankful right now for Sherwood baptist church and what they’re doing.
A new christian plateform is needed I agree the traditional places CBN TBN and EWTN have been to fraught with politics to be credible anymore.