Digital podcasts and streaming video might bring Christian audiences inspirational messages in the future, but they aren't bringing in the cash that broadcast ministries need to weather a painful economy.
To make ends meet, religious broadcasters are tightening their belts and going back to basics. That means sticking with time-tested formulas, postponing innovations and counting on loyal (largely senior) audiences to keep donating even when it hurts.
Whether they depend on donors, advertising dollars or a combination of the two, mass media ministries are feeling the recession squeeze:
* Christian radio giant Salem Communications sold four stations, slashed 10% of its workforce and trimmed 5% off all salaries.
* Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN), the nation's largest Christian TV network, has laid off workers and scrambled to fill programming holes as T.D. Jakes, Joyce Meyer and other ministries cut costs by producing fewer shows.
* Focus on the Family, which has produced James Dobson's radio show since 1977, has eliminated about 450 jobs since 2004.
"The industry is at a crossroads," says Paul Creasman, associate professor of communications at Southern Wesleyan University in Central, S.C. "The audience is dwindling, and they have to figure out what to do. But the Web is not the answer because older audiences don't use the Internet . . . and younger audiences will go to the Web for content, but they'll probably be less likely to donate."