Sony’s Buying of Pure Flix May Raise the Bar for Christian Films
It’s Possible That Sony’s Purchase of Pure Flix Will Raise the Bar for Christian Films.
The question is how a major Hollywood studio will tackle the vast options aimed at the Christian market as it invests in on-demand inspirational programming.
Sony Pictures has announced their intention to acquire the streaming service Pure Flix and its hundreds of thousands of subscribers who are dedicated to “clean entertainment” and “feel-good movies.” This move is expected to shake up the narrow faith-based streaming sector.
Pure Flix, one of a half-dozen streaming platforms aimed at Christian audiences, will be entirely owned by Sony subsidiary Affirm Entertainment, the business said last week.
With popular titles aimed at Christian audiences, Affirm already has a strong track record of what executives call “uplifting, inspirational content,” including Miracles from Heaven starring Jennifer Garner, War Room from filmmaker brothers Alex and Stephen Kendrick, and The Star, an animated re-telling of the Nativity co-produced by DeVon Franklin and The Jim Henson Company.
According to Keith Le Goy, Sony’s president of networks and distribution, the acquisition enables Affirm to develop and share more stories that are “both powerful and engaging.”
Pure Flix CEO Michael Scott and chief content officer David A. R. White, who has starred in numerous Pure Flix movies, have stated that they intend to stay on board and will join Affirm Entertainment when the acquisition is completed to run the service and assist develop future programming. However, the indie company Pure Flix Entertainment will remain a separate entity and keep its picture portfolio, including the God’s Not Dead trilogy, which grossed $96 million at the box office.
This initiative by a major studio demonstrates the importance Hollywood places on reaching Christian consumers, especially when much entertainment has shifted to in-home and on-demand viewing.
“The transition to streaming has been a long time coming,” said Erik Lokkesmoe, president of Nashville-based Aspiration Entertainment. “However, there is no clear path for finding an audience.” The majority of market participants are still stumbling up the dark staircase.”
Streaming has dominated the entertainment sector, with most theaters closed due to COVID-19-related lockdowns. Sony’s statement coincided with Disney’s disclosure that its Disney+ streaming service had over 73 million global customers. Meanwhile, industry leader Netflix just increased its global member base to 195 million.
Pure Flix, on the other hand, boasted 350,000 customers in December and has subsequently stated that its streaming service has seen a “40 percent growth in membership” this spring. (Neither Pure Flix nor Sony Pictures responded to calls for comment.)
Encourage holistic well-being
Despite the fact that current subscribers constitute a small percentage of top streamers, one industry insider mentioned an applicable marketing adage: “Riches are in the niches.”
“As audiences fragment, we see huge opportunity,” said Lokkesmoe, who distributes films and has pushed hits to the Christian market such as Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, The Peanut Butter Falcon, and Dark Waters. “Streaming has evolved into an excellent choice. Families may watch several movies early and at a lower cost than going to the movies.”
Streaming video-on-demand services have upended Hollywood’s business model by consolidating film production, financing, marketing, and distribution under a single brand that is accessible from home. Netflix, Amazon Prime, Disney+, and HBO Max all reach relatively distinct audiences. A parallel ecosystem of Christian-targeted streaming competitors, including Minno, VidAngel, RightNowMedia, and Pure Flix, has attempted to imitate that strategy.
Despite this, leading streaming services have kept faith-driven customers coming back with consistent releases. Disney+ recently targeted to Christian viewers with the inspirational picture Clouds, which received positive reviews from Christian outlets, whereas Netflix has a rich roster of religion movies such as Sony’s Soul Surfer, The Young Messiah, and the forthcoming docuseries Voices of Fire.
“Today, more Christians watch Netflix and Disney+ than any self-proclaimed ‘faith-based streaming service,'” Lokkesmoe added. “However, there is no greater leader to compete with than Sony Affirm, led by Rich Peluso.” They have the reputation and size to be taken seriously by everyone: industry producers, trade journals, and the audience.”
Sony’s acquisition of the streaming service Pure Flix is the first big studio attempt to create a must-see destination for faith entertainment. Its dozens of Christian-themed films, including conversion-oriented films by the Kendrick Brothers, will be integrated with the Pure Flix library, which recently included season 1 of VidAngel’s acclaimed Gospel adaption The Chosen. (The project, which has received over 20,000 backers and raised $20 million to date, outperforms comparable titles on the Pure Flix app.)
However, the diverse filmography of Sony’s Affirm label, which has been led by executive vice president Peluso since its inception, encapsulates decades of successes and failures in attracting Christian consumers. It also demonstrates how difficult it has been to retain talent.
Producer DeVon Franklin left Sony after many successes, including Heaven is for Real, which grossed $101 million worldwide. The Erwin Brothers’ comedy Moms’ Night Out was released by Affirm in 2014, but they lost out on their $86 million windfall I Can Only Imagine, which was released by Lionsgate instead in 2018. The filmmaker brothers have since signed a multi-year partnership with that studio.
Sony will have to establish the brand of the Pure Flix service and its expanding offerings, with films aimed at Christian viewers ranging from the evangelistic furor of God’s Not Dead to avant-garde faith-conscious pictures like Martin Scorsese’s Silence and Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life.
“Determining what their faith film library is about will be a nice task,” Lokkesmoe added. “Are the stories inspiring?” Is it the good, true, and lovely? Is it a lack of sex, violence, or explicit language? Or, more specifically, what appeals to conservative white evangelicals?”
“My fear is [their approach] may miss out on honest, true narrative that wrestles with the sad, broken world we truly live in,” he continued, with the cynicism of an insider.
Pure Flix currently offers viewers to “have confidence in their entertainment” for $12.99 per month. Its most popular titles include The Chosen, a biopic of the famous evangelist Palau, and The Case for Christ, a documentary about skeptical journalist-turned-biblical-apologist Lee Strobel.
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