A major producer of faith-based content has just announced plans to acquire a major online distributor of faith-based content, so what does this mean for the large but often underserved Christian audience?
On Nov. 12, AFFIRM Entertainment Inc., a subsidiary of Sony Pictures Entertainment Inc., announced the acquisition (pending regulatory approval) of the Pure Flix SVOD (Subscription Video On Demand) service, which provides inspirational movies and TV to subscribers in the U.S. and Canada.
The SVOD's corporate sibling, indie studio Pure Flix Entertainment, will remain a separate company, along with its films, including the God's Not Dead trilogy.
AFFIRM is essentially buying access to the Pure Flix SVOD's library and subscriber base. Considering how COVID-19 has decimated moviegoing, all studios are looking to beef up their online offerings, so in that sense, this move is no surprise.
But, what will it mean for faith-and-family-friendly fare? The general genre of Christian entertainment has a spotty history, and it has been somewhat better on TV than at the box office.
In the past, major-network series like Touched by an Angel and 7th Heaven garnered large audiences. More recently, there's Hallmark Channel's annual tsunami of Christmas romantic comedies. and its family-suitable series, like When Calls the Heart.
Netflix has even gotten into the faith game, especially with two current offerings: the faith-centric musical Dolly Parton's Christmas on the Square, and the gospel-music reality series Voices of Fire, featuring singer Pharrell Williams and his pastor uncle.
Faith-based feature films have proven a tougher nut to crack for independent producers, who've often been accused of putting out low-quality projects.
Lately, we have seen some successful, higher-quality films, like the Erwin Bros.' I Can Only Imagine and I Still Believe. The second one was released under the Erwins' new Kingdom Story Company, a film and TV production company launched in 2018, in partnership with American/Canadian studio Lionsgate.
Of major studios tackling the Christian genre, AFFIRM has been one of the more successful, with such films as Heaven Is for Real, Miracles From Heaven, War Room, Risen, Soul Surfer, The Star and Paul, Apostle of Christ.
In late 2019, AFFIRM launched AFFIRM Television, under the leadership of Marybeth Sprows, formerly of Hallmark Channel and Paulist Productions.
Said Sony about the Pure Flix move:
“Pure Flix is a natural fit with our AFFIRM brand, which is known for its high quality, uplifting, inspirational content,” said Keith Le Goy, President, Networks and Distribution, Sony Pictures Entertainment. “We love creating and sharing stories that are both impactful and entertaining, and the Pure Flix service will enable us to do more of that every day.
Pure Flix has done an amazing job building a robust community of engaged subscribers, and we look forward to continuing to grow and delight audiences with well-curated faith and family entertainment.”
Family Theater Productions exists to put out faith-and-family-friendly projects, so all of this is of great interest to us. I asked a couple of FTP folks about their thoughts on AFFIRM's move.
From our head of production, Father David Guffey, C.S.C.. (also an executive producer on our new documentary, PRAY: THE STORY OF PATRICK PEYTON, which will soon move from movie theaters to streaming):
This acquisition is another very hopeful sign that that mainstream Hollywood recognizes the presence of faith and family audiences and is trying to offer them quality content.
From Senior Producer Tony Sands:
On the one hand, it is going to shrink the business again. You have a situation where one of the players you could have gone to for distribution has been taken up into a larger organization. So there'll be fewer shingles to go to for your faith film. On the other hand, I think it's a giant benefit to Pure Flix and its viewers.
Pure Flix was always trying to make things on a very indie level because that was what they could afford, for a highest possible return on investment. Sony has deep enough pockets to take a few more risks.
With a solid base of subscribers now, AFFIRM can both offer its existing content and have a launching pad for future content, especially TV movies and series. And since the acquisition is under the AFFIRM banner, those likely won't be just family-friendly but faith-affirming (pardon the pun) as well.
Image: AFFIRM Entertainment/Pure Flix
Kate O’Hare, a longtime entertainment journalist, is Social Media Manager and blog editor at Family Theater Productions.