Faith, Media & Culture

Here’s today’s dispatch from the crossroads of faith, media and culture.

Dove Channel fills a market void. It’s been  few months now since Cinedigm Entertainment Group bowed Dove Channel, a family and faith-friendly streaming network comprised of movies and series programming bearing the official approval seal of its venture partner The Dove Foundation.  Since the 1990’s Dove Foundation (under CEO Dick Rolfe) has built a reputation for providing parents with movie  reviews that rate films based on such criteria as Sexuality, Language, Violence, Drug and alcohol use, Nudity, and Other.

According to a very-pleased Cinedigm President Bill Sondheim, Dove has gotten off to an even stronger start than the company’s previously-existing streaming services. They include CONtv (with a focus the sort of stuff sci-fi/superhero stuff Comic-Con fans would appreciate) and Docurama (designed to be a haven for lovers of all things documentary).

I recently had the opportunity to talk with Sondheim about plans for Dove and the future of streaming TV networks.

JWK: So, Dove Channel is off to a good start?

BILL SONDHEIM: Yes, it’s by far the most successful initial launch of any of the channels that we’ve done…We believe it just kind of reinforces the fact that there’s, first, a very big audience that we’re targeting and there’s a very specific need that this audience has.

I’ve heard from so many consumers thanking us for putting this service together because they are having a difficult time in navigating the web and understanding how to let their children enjoy content and enjoy the technology…but to do it in a way that’s safe and that they can somewhat control and manage because they’re the adults and they want to have that protection there for their kids.

JWK: How did the Dove Channel concept come about?

BILL SONDHEIM: I’ll honest with you, it’s easy to take credit for being brilliant or geniuses and those things but I feel lucky and blessed that I chose Dick (Rolfe) and Dove as my partner because I chose them initially, in all candor, because I had known that they were this Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval. I had known them and I had had my movies rated for years by Dove. But, in all honesty, I didn’t fully appreciate the power that their filtering system would provide with this new technology. I didn’t fully appreciate how because they rate things across these five categories –every film, consistently–by  taking all that data that we had and putting it into an app that allows the consumer to actually set levels depending on the maturity of their child and the willingness that they have to let them be exposed to certain things and not others. That customization, I think, puts us in such a unique position. We just need to help communicate that. We just need to help the consumer to understand what this app can really do and I think that we will have great success because of it.  So far, knock on wood, I seem to be right.

JWK: So, you say you’re looking to do original programming in the first quarter of 2016.

BILL SONDHEIM: We already are…One of the things that I think is one of the most important challenges that we face to be successful at Dove is to continually give the site new and fresh content and to help the consumer be aware of what that content is. We’ve already identified…original production projects that we’d like to start producing in the first month of January. Many of them can be delivered within a month or two so that we have that on our site in the first quarter.

JWK:  You already have the TV series Austentatious, a comedy which takes young characters inspired by Jane Austen novels (i.e. Pride & Prejudice, Emma and Sense and Sensibility) up and running.

BILL SONDHEIM: Yes we  are, and that’s done well. But I think that there’s other content that we need to add to that on a regular basis. We’re constantly doing deals to license existing programming from other people…But, beyond that, we also feel we need to produce original programming — things that you’ve never seen before and would not be able to see anywhere else. And that’s gonna be important, no doubt about it.

JWK: Besides Dove Channel, you also have a streaming channel called CONtv which is aimed at the fanboy market.

BILL SONDHEIM: CON is quite a bit of a different strategy, in all honesty. What we found was that we can license for Dove really great family movies that are wonderful entertainment for a relatively inexpensive price. There’s a lot of that good content available and, because of the way Hollywood acts, it’s not highly sought after and, therefore, it’s not as expensive for us to acquire.

When we originally launched CONtv we thought we would try to license a lot of properties you would see at a Comic-Con but those are some of the biggest properties out there. I mean you’re talking about Spider-Man, Fantastic Four. I mean these are Hollywood mega-titles and even a level or two or three below that — a title that was a mega-hit three or four years ago — is still hundreds of thousands of dollars to license for, at times, just a couple of months. I mean we were shocked at some of the prices. And the reason is, in all honesty, is because NetFlix is able to pay those amounts so they drive up the price…The difference is Netflix has 45 million subscribers.

JWK: Netflix is also into the family market, right?

BILL SONDHEIM: Netflix has everything and that’s fine if you don’t mind looking through everything while you’re looking for something but beware because there’s a lot of stuff on there that you may find offensive or you may find that it does not reinforce your values. But Netflix isn’t trying to be, in all honesty, a purveyor of values. They’re trying to just give you the most commercial product they can and they’re being very successful at that.

If can make the analogy, they’re kind of like Macy’s or JC Penney or something. They’re gonna have everything there. But, if you’re really looking for ethical product, you might want to go to a Christian bookstore. In retail smaller retailers that are more focused on family programming. Or maybe you want to go to a Hallmark Store (where) you would be more comfortable that you’re getting the kind of content that you’re interested in. Netflix is a terrific place to go for that broad everything. Frankly, if it wasn’t for Netflix, I don’t think the consumer would be understanding that now they can stream things on their phones and they can get content and watch content wherever they might be — of course at home but while they’re traveling too. So, Netflix has played an important role in my opinion in creating awareness and creating a new consumer trend. Now our job is to find a way to harness that trend in a way that meets the needs of certain families.

Not everybody, by the way, is gonna feel they need Dove and that’s fine. We understand that. For example, my youngest child is now 18 years old and my eldest is 24. Ten years ago I really needed Dove in my life. Today, my kids are a little past that. I’m no longer really monitoring what they watch. They’re living on their own…At a different stage of my life Dove would have been a key ingredient in helping me to both allow my kids to watch great content but to know that I’m not letting them see things that I would find inappropriate.

JWK: Some of the content has a specifically Christian focus but not all of it. Are you reaching out to non-Christian families as well?

BILL SONDHEIM: Absolutely. In fact, more than half the content is not “Christian.” It may speak to Christian values like helping those less fortunate, not bullying people or standing up for the little guy who is being bullied. These are important themes especially in today’s society, I think. Bullying, for one, has become a really big problem. As a parent, I’ve seen it up close. It’s because of the cyber-age. What we have to recognize as parents is that what you used to have to whisper in a friends ear — one person to one person — that’s now done on a text and it is seen posted on Facebook by hundreds of people…When I was growing up rumors would go around the school but it would be person to person spreading the rumor. Now one person can, in effect, spread a rumor to an entire school with the push of a button. With that power comes great responsibility. We, as parents, I think have to recognize concerns that we face as parents because of that. It’s a challenge and I think, frankly, it’s becoming more and more of a challenge as technology allows us to learn more and more we need to be there (to help them see) what’s appropriate at their age. At 22 or 25 years old, I feel like you should be mature enough to handle any information that’s out there and judge for yourself. But you need those formative years to be able to develop those skills, to understand what you’re gonna believe and what you’re gonna reject.

John W. Kennedy is a writer/development consultant specializing in teleplays, screenplays and novelizations. He can be reached at

Encourage one another and build each other up – 1 Thessalonians 5:11

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