Academic journal article Journal of Religion and Popular Culture

Everyday a Miracle: History According to Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN)

Academic journal article Journal of Religion and Popular Culture

Everyday a Miracle: History According to Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN)

Article excerpt

[1] Television has become a medium through which many contemporary American evangelical Christians experience their faith. According to the entry on televangelism in the Encyclopedia of Religion, Communication, and Media, published in 2006, thirteen million, or approximately 4%, of Americans regularly watch televangelists and 43 percent of American adults had seen Christian programming during the month in which the survey was conducted. (1) The best established suppliers of American evangelical Christian television programming are networks that operate both broadcast stations and cable channels such as Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN), Daystar, and EWTN (Eternal Word Television Network). (2) TBN in particular promotes itself as "America's most watched faith channel and the world's largest religious network." (3) TBN acquires and distributes a range of Christian programs through local stations, cable, Televisual Teleology: History According to Trinity Broadcasting Network satellite, and the World Wide Web, and was ranked as the tenth largest broadcast group owner in America by the independent trade journal Broadcasting and Cable Magazine in 2004. (4) TBN also produces original media content such as variety shows featuring Christian celebrities, lifestyle shows that target niche viewer groups like women and teens, and Hollywood-style Christian-themed movies. TBN's promotional materials stress its international reach through its 33 satellites and multilingual programming. (5) In sum, evangelical Christian television in general and TBN specifically can be seen as a notable minority constituent within the contemporary American television industry.

[2] TBN differs from non-religious television networks in both purpose and structure. There exists some overlap in equipment and markets between TBN and commercial networks such as CBS, NBC and ABC: a television set that receives TBN programming would also be able to receive mainstream network programming. However, TBN is not a for-profit, publicly traded company but a 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation. It does not base its revenue on delivering audiences to large corporate advertisers, nor is it beholden to shareholders to capitalize on their investments. Instead, TBN is an organization whose earnings do not benefit private interests, whose political lobbying activities are restricted, and whose purpose is charitable, religious, scientific, literary, and educational. (6) With respect to its legal status, TBN thus more resembles Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) or the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB). (7) However, while member donations provide just over half of PBS's operating budget, with government sponsorship supplying most of the remainder, individual viewer pledges account for more than two-thirds of TBN's revenues. (8) In this sense, TBN's financial operations most resemble the direct-response shopping model, such as the Home Shopping Network. Unlike the Home Shopping Network, however, pledging TBN viewers are not buying items for their own Televisual Teleology: History According to Trinity Broadcasting Network consumption. Instead, they are sponsoring evangelists who use television to proselytize. Month after month, contributing viewers confirm their support of TBN's mission by bearing the substantial cost of maintaining an ever-expanding television network and producer. TBN's visible long-term success "testifies" to its history of satisfying the evangelical Christian community of which it is a member. Therefore the texts that TBN produces to document its history provide insight into how TBN represents itself to its contributing viewers to earn their trust.

[3] TBN claims to have influenced the fundamental beliefs of millions of viewers since it began to broadcast in 1973; however, its media coverage is mostly self-generated. The intersection of television and religion remains marginal to discussions of both television and religion in either popular or academic contexts. …

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