Buying Christian Television Airtime

by Paul McDonald | Oct 6, 2009 | Media

When it comes to buying media, many of the rules that apply to mainstream media don’t fit with effectively planning and executing a media buy in the Christian market. There are unique considerations in the Christian market that make planning, negotiating, and placing media in this vertical a highly specialized skill.

Let’s start with television ratings. Secular television stations live and die by ratings. When buying time on a secular station, it’s all about CPM (cost per thousand) and market share. Rarely does Christian television fit that mold. Because Christian television caters to such a niche audience, the Christian station, as a rule, just doesn’t get the audience numbers in order to make the Nielsen books. Buying Christian media is more a qualitative issue than a quantitative issue.

There are many Christian stations that do make the Nielsen books with verifiable ratings. Nielsen publishes an interesting book called Report on Devotional Programs four times a year: February, May, July, and November. In it are listed the “top” Christian programs, based on audience numbers from the stations that do register Nielsen numbers. Typically, some Christian stations and networks show measurable response in these reports — but only a relatively few. Programmers can contact Nielsen, and if your program meets their qualifications for inclusion, your listing could be added to this book.

With all that said, it’s still not a good idea to rely on this quantitative approach as a primary source for evaluating buys in Christian television. Nor do we advocate the opposite approach that holds Nielsen in disdain (usually by the stations that don’t make the books simply because they don’t have the measurable audience). While it is true that some stations may not have enough viewers watching their station to qualify for Nielsen numbers, they still have a highly viable qualitative audience.

It is important to find a way to quantify and measure your buying decisions. Since most Christian programs are “direct response” programs, one of the best ways to determine if you have made a good decision in placing your media is to measure the response from the program against the cost. Careful thought should go into the metric that will be used to measure your program’s success. Then, the program should be crafted and produced with that metric in mind. This metric is typically expressed in the form of an offer. The offer might be for a free product, purchased product, prodiuct for donation, or partnership invitation.

Whatever you offer on your program, it is best to work with a third party phone center to receive and process your viewer calls. These vendors can track response to your program and provide regular response reports. These reports can be used to decide if your program is “successful” in a particular market on a particular station.

Careful planning is always important. Appropriate tracking systems need to be imbedded into the programs, so you can determine which stations or networks are producing response for you. Without this process it is almost impossible to accurately determine the cost-effectiveness of individual buys. Save yourself the headache and plan ahead.

Don’t expect that you will surpass all sales records for your products in the first week of airing; maybe not even the first six months! You will have to build an audience in a new market. Use whatever methods are at your disposal to help with this task before you determine if this station is viable for your program. Direct mailings to your database in the viewing area, local advertising on that television station, a radio station in the same market, or even billboards can be used to promote your new program. Perhaps you can even work with local churches in that area to help promote your program.

Be realistic about your expectations. This is a niche audience, but it is also a loyal and generous audience. But, be prepared to commit for the long haul. It often takes 12 to 18 months for a program to become self-supporting on any given outlet. Now is a great time to expand your reach. Many stations and networks are offering excellent rates. Invest in the future and you will see your reward.

Infinity Concepts can help you deliver your message in the most effective way using traditional media. Contact us today to get started!

Paul McDonald
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