Chapter Five – FishTube: Video and Internet Evangelism
Another method of connecting with seekers is through short- and long-form video, both amateur and professional. Since Broadband exceeded 50 percent penetration in the U.S. market in 2004, online video has exploded in popularity. The Los Angeles Times reported a survey by the nonprofit Conference Board showing that nearly a quarter of households in the United States now view television programs online. The quarterly Consumer Internet Barometer survey found that news shows were watched by 43 percent of online viewers, followed by sitcoms, comedies, and dramas, watched by 35 percent. Slightly less than 20 percent viewed reality shows online, and 18 percent took in sports.
The survey found that 90 percent of online viewers watch at home. The remaining 10 percent watch at the office.1
According to Microsoft founder Bill Gates, the Internet is set to revolutionize television viewing, as a result of an explosion of online video content and the merging of PCs and television sets.2
Gates predicts that in the years ahead, audiences will demand the flexibility offered by online video and abandon conventional broadcast television, with its fixed program slots and advertisements that interrupt shows. “Certain things like elections or the Olympics really point out how TV is terrible. You have to wait for the guy to talk about the thing you care about or you miss the event and want to go back and see it,” he said. “Internet presentation of these things is vastly superior. Because TV is moving into being delivered over the Internet—and some of the big phone companies are building up the infrastructure for that—you’re going to have that experience all together,” Gates said.3
The rise of high-speed Internet and the popularity of video sites like YouTube and Tangle have already led to a worldwide decline in the number of hours spent by people in front of a TV set. eMarketer reports that according to the Global Web Index, from Trendstream, with research conducted by Lightspeed Research, 72 percent of U.S. Internet users watch video clips monthly—making video bigger than blogging or social networking.4
The U.S. television audience was twice the size of its broadband Internet population in 2006. But according to eMarketer, by 2011, America’s broadband audience is likely to swell to two-thirds that of TV. Three-quarters of online video viewers watched more video in 2007 than they did in 2006, and more than one-half expected to watch even more in 2008, according to a study conducted by Taylor Nelson Sofres and sponsored by AOL and Google. Analysts at eMarketer estimate that in 2006 114.3 million Americans were watching video on the Internet. By 2011 that audience is expected to increase by 50 percent to 183 million viewers.5
E-Marketing.com’s Alexander Castro observes, “In the past year, online video has graduated beyond amateur, user-generated content to now include professionally produced series created specifically for the Web. . . . New video search technologies have been developed that allow Web users to search inside a video or audio file for specific keywords and topics before consuming the entire clip. The targeting potential for advertisers is enormous.”6
Online Video and Internet Evangelism
With this new interest in online video, and the new search capabilities, the targeting potential for Internet evangelism is equally enormous.
“Video has a unique ability,” says Alex Demeshkin, “Just like when we communicate, it’s in the gestures, facial expressions, and other things that video communicates. It is strong and effective, like you’re present there with them. That’s why video is so unique and so important.”
The exciting thing about the digital video revolution is it’s also affordable to an individual NetCaster, a local church, or a small parachurch ministry. You don’t need high-end production quality of videos to get started. You don’t have to purchase a $20,000 dollar professional camera or lights. With the advance of digital video technology, today you can merely grab a simple webcam or a regular consumer type camera and start shooting video.
And the good news is that your typical Web users today are OK with that because they’re used to YouTube, which has a lot of low-quality, low-production value material. So if you have a message that really engages people, you can broadcast events very easily.
The most popular online videos are not the slick, professional production pieces that you see on TV. They are typically amateur clips of people being creative.
Jesse Carey of Relevant online believes that if people can tap into that creative energy in an evangelistic sense, they won’t have to have the resources of a production team or a video crew. “What people are looking for is authenticity. They like video bloggers. I think if you can adopt that appeal of the online video, then it can definitely be, in terms of new trends, something to try to work outward.”
The key is creative thinking and singleness of purpose.
Carey points to a YouTube group that actually started as a group of atheists. “They wanted to get people to submit and upload YouTube videos of them committing blasphemy of the Holy Spirit. That caused a lot of buzz. It had the potential to be a wake-up call to some Christians.”
The atheists were invited by Way of the Master, with Ray Comfort, to have a debate, and it ended up on ABC’s Nightline. It was a relatively civil and engaging debate. But if it wasn’t for those YouTube videos, few people would have seen that there are this many atheists who are willing to do this. “In a way they figured out a way to execute what they wanted to in an anti-religious way. It ended up that there was a positive outcome to that.”
Dumpster Diving for Gold
But Johnnie Gnanamanickam of CBN.com cautions that working with video has a downside as well as its positive side, both for users and for online evangelists.
“Video is a tough one, especially with YouTube, and Tangle, and places like that. Someone said that it’s like ‘Dumpster diving for gold.’ You have, I wouldn’t even say a wealth—it’s more like a garbage Dumpster full of stuff. Helping people find what they need and getting down to it, that’s really a challenge.”
But Johnnie points out that there is a way to make video workable for evangelism. “One of the things that I think would be cool is to bring the interactive element into it. We need to start doing interactive live shows and things like that on video. Tangle lets you do a Web camera or a text chat to talk. I think that’s going to start being popular. You can build an audience and do interactive Internet video shows. That would probably be productive, especially if you are answering questions.”
Along with his work as an Internet consultant and architect, Richard Helsby has worked with the popular Christian video program OneCubed.com. He explains how Internet evangelists can utilize video effectively: “You can do something very powerfully visually. I think most people now have been forwarded a clip of something. As certain clips are developed and created, they can be passed around and shared and put into spaces where you never know who might see them. You see the popularity of certain clips, whether it be on YouTube or things like that. So creative clips that connect with people and reveal deeper truths hold tremendous potential.”
“Pretty much everything that is out there at the moment is all short-form—two to three minutes. Most people just snack on the video. Things are going long-form as people are starting to watch some of their TV shows out there. Most people aren’t going to go watch a whole bunch of shows that they don’t know about, unless they’re really interested in them. I can see long-form things taking hold as well, but that would be the next stage, if people are really interested in something. It could be meeting a certain need or a certain piece of information that they’re looking for—maybe they’ll watch something that’s longer.
“But if you’re doing that initial evangelism, and you’re aiming at them, there will be the short-forms, the trailers, the ideas, and the concepts.
“God works in people, like the sower sowing the seed. Some seeds take and some don’t. It’s kind of a process and a journey for some people. So you can design video that starts saying, ‘Hey, maybe there’s something out there apart from what you just see.’ Start seeding that idea and putting that in video, in short-form on YouTube.
“But the community decides what’s popular. That’s the interesting thing. You then have the question of ‘Once I finish watching the clip, then what?’ So you have to think through that.”
The next step in the process is to move a viewer to a gospel presentation of some sort. This might be a video, a text explanation of the plan of salvation, or a flash presentation of some sort. Or you might move him into a chat, instant message, or Skype environment where someone can lead him in a prayer of salvation.
Once a person makes a commitment to Jesus Christ through one of these methods, there must be a strategy for discipleship and encouraging him to become a part of a local church.
“Try to plug people into a community,” Helsby suggests. “If you can get communities where people can be nurtured and grow, plug them in there. Plug them into an online course where they can choose what’s relevant. Ideally, if you can get multiple people taking that course at the same time—with human interaction and facilitators—there are huge networking possibilities and potential.”
But it takes people. God will typically work through people having relationships with other people. There is a need for a facilitator, and that’s where local churches can get involved. By building relationships first online, people don’t have to come to the building. It’s less threatening. Hopefully they will check out a church online and build a relationship. Once trust is built, they may be willing to visit the church in person.
Alex Demeshkin encourages NetCasters to harness the power of synergizing different elements of outreach with video online. “If you’re working with a typical Internet audience, a mixture of combining marketing techniques, including Internet and using different channels, is a very good strategy. So if you have a TV program or a radio show or a print publication, cross-selling is very effective. The synergy is so great.
“For example, you hear a commercial and it says, ‘Call now,’ and they give a long phone number that has a lot of digits. You may or may not remember it because you are driving and you don’t have a pen to write it down, even if it’s something you’re looking for. If the radio says, ‘Are you having a struggle with an issue?’ And it talks about Christianity and church and says, ‘To find out more and find a local group that meets here locally, go to something like www.needhim.com,’ that’s logical and easy to remember. Chances are the listener is going to go when they are at their computer and jump on that Web site. So here you have the synergy of these two things working together.”
Demeshkin also points to the future power of IPTV, which is television on the Internet, becoming mainstream in the United States. “Basically, think of IPTV as an interactive TV. It not only allows you, like TiVo or DVRs, to stop, pause, record, playback, and so on, but also have all of the good interactive functionality that the Internet has embedded into that television set. You may be watching a historic channel about biblical archaeology, and it talks about the Dead Sea Scrolls. If you’re really interested in the subject, you can stop it right there and start reading off the Internet on the topic.”
There are endless possibilities for video online today. Churches are streaming services or individual sermons; NetCasters are posting individual testimonies with a gospel message attached; young and old alike are posting creative short-play videos of two or three minutes that capture the attention of Web surfers; and flash designers are creating gospel presentations that include animated graphics and video elements.
The future of video on the Web is truly exciting, and limited only to the creativity of the individual NetCaster.
Video, along with audio, begs for portability. People don’t want to be tethered to their desktops. That’s why Apple’s iPhone and digital devices like it are becoming so popular. “Ever since podcasting was introduced, the question has been the same: Will anyone listen? The answer is definitely, ‘Yes,’” says Paul Verna of eMarketer, who estimates that the total U.S. podcast audience reached 18.5 million in 2007. Furthermore, that audience will increase by 251 percent to 65 million in 2012. And of those listeners, 25 million will be “active” users who tune in at least once a week. “As the U.S. podcasting industry matures it is unquestionably creating a listening audience.”7
Verna is an eMarketer senior analyst and the author of the report, “Podcast Audience: Seeking Riches in Niches.” He points out that a number of factors are driving the growth of the podcast user base, including greater ease of consumption for podcast content, growing awareness of podcasting, terrestrial radio’s use and promotion of podcasting, increased penetration of portable players, and the evolution of smart phones, and proliferation of affordable mobile data plans.
“No one will argue that mobile devices and communication are becoming widespread,” says Verna. “Even so, the majority of podcasts are actually experienced on PCs, not portable devices.” The situation might change in time, but for now podcasts are mainly a desktop phenomenon as opposed to a mobile or portable one.8
Tony Whittaker points out the strength of podcasting as an element of effective Internet outreach: “The MP3 is great for music and also short or long audio clips. And, of course, with mobile phones increasingly turning into MP3 players, too, the potential for downloadable audio presentations of different sorts to take with you and listen to when traveling, or whenever, is certainly significant.”9
Jesse Carey also sees great potential for podcasting. “I think podcasting is hugely effective. People can download it and listen to it when they want. Whereas with other types of media, they had to knowingly turn on the channel and be there at a certain time, or they had to turn on the radio. The Web 2.0 thing kind of started with putting media in the user’s terms. They can take the podcast with them wherever they go. They can listen to it whenever they want on their iPod.”10
What’s Now? What’s Next?
All of these methods are being used effectively by NetCasters around the world. Now, with the advent of social networks like Facebook, MySpace, and others like them, these techniques are being implemented in ways that have far-reaching implications for Internet evangelism. Let’s look at how NetCasters can use these social networks to connect with people and point them to the answers.