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Finding God in cyberspace

Home video distributors and producers have been using the Internet as an adjunct to their retail or direct sale business for some time now. And as the Web has grown, they've discovered that it can be a far better selling tool...
March 1, 1999

Home video distributors and producers have been using the Internet as an adjunct to their retail or direct sale business for some time now. And as the Web has grown, they’ve discovered that it can be a far better selling tool than shelf placement for niche products like religious programs.

The denizens of e-tailing have also discovered the religious video market. Reel.com, one of the largest on-line video retailers, used to carry religious videos only during the holiday

season. This month, the company is incorporating a permanent

spiritual category that will house religious and new age titles.

Traditional religious distribution companies already know there is tremendous cybersales growth potential for this niche market. Specialty distribution companies such as SISU (the distributor of Jewish family videos that offers Shalom Sesame Street (a CTW series that uses English and Hebrew) have grown their market by adding cybersales to their distribution arsenals. While the New York-based company has relied mostly on direct marketing and specialty retail, president Paulette Glassman says the Web has expanded the company’s market base. ‘We’ve linked with a lot of religious and [non-denominational consumer] sites, so kids and adults can easily find our items,’ she says. ‘It’s made it easier for us to create awareness of our products.’

This is particularly critical since retail shelf space for kidvids is hotly contested and retailers have been hesitant to stock items with a religious bias.

‘We get about 400 hits a day on our site, and people are placing orders from all over the world,’ says Adnan Khattak, operations manager for www.islamicbookstore.com. The virtual store features five children’s videos that are offered in English and Arabic. Animated by Astrolabe Pictures, they run under 70 minutes each, and cost US$20. ‘In-store sales are more limited because these products would only sell in specialty shops in large urban centers.’

Even Christian videos, which are more readily accepted by retailers, benefit from Internet distribution. In the U.S., the Christian video market is worth US$98 million, nearly half of this amount coming from Catholic film sales. These findings hail from a 1997 study conducted for CCC of America, a Texas-based production and distribution company, which also found that religious vid sales are up 30% from 1995. CCC of America has several lines of kidvids, including Heros of the Faith, a series of 30-minute animated stories. Mario Skertchley, president of CCC of America, attributes increased sales to society’s growing interest in spirituality, parental concern about TV violence, as well as greater accessibility on the Web.

‘Until now, we’ve used direct mail, telemarketing and placement in Christian book stores to sell the videos,’ he says. ‘With the Internet, we’ve added another dimension to the marketing, and we can’t go wrong with that.’

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