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Let’s face it; the church has never done television very well. Sure, religious channels exist but not many of us are watching them percentage wise, and almost no one who is a non-Christian is looking. Despite Christianity being about communicating God’s truth to the world, we have not been able to get anywhere close to competing with Eastenders for audience attention. And, after eighty years of television, this fact doesn’t look set to change any time soon.
In the past not a lot could be done to change it. The cost and the skills required to produce a single TV show alone, never mind find a network provider willing to broadcast it, were an enormous barrier to entry. Not so today.
Video has become one of the most important methods of communication online. When our phones also became reasonable quality audio and visual recording devices, most of our favourite social media platforms responded by giving us space to upload our content onto, even if it was as little as only ten seconds of footage.
Why is this important? Because public attention is shifting. An old buddy of mine recently commented how he “never has to worry about his kids watching too much telly, as they never watch any telly, they are always watching some rubbish on YouTube.” At first glance this shouldn't make sense. The quality of TV is so much higher than YouTube. Why would anyone choose to watch a bunch of grainy home shot videos over professionally developed dramas and documentaries? What makes endless YouTube channels of teenage girls talking about makeup, or teenage boys pranking McDonald's drive thru’s or UFO videos from Mexico, more compelling than their attractive mainstream competitors?
Studies are beginning to give us an answer. It appears that Youtubers are having a more influential role on the viewer than television celebrities. When US teenagers were able to rate their most influential stars in 2014, YouTuber stars took the top five place. In 2015 they took the top six. Youtube celebrities were considered more reliable that their mainstream contemporaries:
“Looking at survey comments and feedback, teens enjoy an intimate and authentic experience with YouTube celebrities, who aren’t subject to image strategies carefully orchestrated by PR pros. Teens also say they appreciate YouTube stars’ more candid sense of humour, lack of filter and risk-taking spirit...”
Social video is not a fad, it is a disruption of the visual media industry. A study from Tubular labs in 2015 reported than there were now over 17,000 YouTube channels with over 100,000 subscribers. This is staggering. If authenticity and the relational quality of social media are some of the keys to its success, then the church has two thousand years of success in this space.
With over 6 billion hours of YouTube watched per month, and a decent quality recording device in everyone's pocket, mass media has been thoroughly democratised.
With over 6 billion hours of YouTube watched per month, and a decent quality recording device in everyone's pocket, mass media has been thoroughly democratised. Any one of us can reach mass audiences without having to spend the thousands of pounds and obtain the enormous amounts of skill and equipment previously necessary to get one's message onto the big screen. That is the good news. The bad news however is that gaining an audience is not as simple as pointing and shooting our smart phones at our talking heads, then uploading the footage to YouTube. Over 300 hours of footage is uploaded to YouTube every minute, other video sharing sites such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter are creeping up too. With so much choice available to the viewer, how does our footage interrupt the noise and attract a dedicated community of viewers? Authenticity is part of the answer. The most successful YouTubers will also tell you, however, that it is extremely hard work. It takes years of often slow growth to build a following. There is no growth hack, just a steady incline. So posting one or two videos that you believe ought to go viral will leave most budding internet celebs disappointed. There are a lot of people out there doing the same thing, no one deserves to be successful, it takes hard work and a lot of learning from those who are already successful in this space. I personally recommend both watching successful YouTubers closely, and listening to experts who have proven their reliability.
Rev. Dan Stork Banks is a Youtuber on the www.TGIMonday.show and is a Shropshire curate. As well as being an ex-police officer he has a background in social media research and has consulted for both church and government on digital communication.