As Christian Television Australia launches its own YouTube channel CTA.tv, CTA chief executive Martin Johnson talks about the organisation's origins, its future direction, and how the new YouTube initiative aims to tap into creative talents of churches across the country...

Broadly, what is the aim of Christian Television Australia?
"In 1954 the superintendent of the Central Methodist Mission, the Rev Dr Sir Alan Walker, represented the Christian Churches at a Royal Commission into television. Alan Walker established the importance of the commercial networks supporting religious programming with facilities and broadcast opportunities, which led to Section 103 of the Broadcasting Act, which required stations to provide production and air time. 
     "Some denominations established their own television divisions to provide content,  others formed state-based Christian Television Associations (CTAs).
     "When television started to network in the late Eighties, the Christian Television Associations of NSW and Queensland formed Christian Television Australia and from the mid Nineties, provided weekly programs for Seven, Nine and Ten. Other state-based CTAs closed their doors. 
     "The regulations governing religious broadcasting were relaxed in the late Nineties with stations able to follow the ‘spirit’ rather than the ‘letter’ of the previous legislation. This led to less and less airtime for churches to the point where Wesley Mission’s Rise and Shine is now the only Australian produced weekly program on a free-to-air commercial network. CTA continues to represent the churches to the networks."

CTA chief executive Martin Johnson

"There are very few outlets for Australian produced Christian television programs. We want to encourage Australian producers and program makers, by using CTA.tv to enable their programs to be more widely seen. Australian Christianity is a reflection of our culture and whilst the message of the Gospel is the same worldwide, we want CTA.tv to be an Australian expression of our faith."

How many shows do you produce a year?
"Prior to the changes in the late Nineties, CTA was producing weekly shows for the Seven, Nine and TEN Networks. Some of these ran for 13 or 26 weeks, whilst others ran for the whole year. In recent years this has dwindled dramatically to where we now produce just Easter and Christmas specials."

What are the audience numbers like? And do you have information on who the audience is?
"We’re able to access audience figures from the networks receive and in the past two years, our programs have reached well over 100,000 viewers per program. Audiences are skewed towards the 39 plus female demographic."

Is CTA looking to produce more shows for free-to-air TV?
"We continue to maintain contact with the free-to-air networks and expect to continue to produce programs for Easter and Christmas. From time to time we also submit ideas for programs at other times of the year. We are about to announce details a funding program to encourage new producers to make quality Christian programs."

You've recently launched a CTA YouTube channel. What's the reasoning behind this?
"Like all program production organisations and companies, we recognise that the methods of program distribution have changed. This is evidenced by the growth of sites like YouTube and the development of ‘catch-up’ web sites by broadcasters. We also want to make our programs available as widely as possible and a YouTube channel is a very cost effective way of doing that."

You've said you want the site to offer uniquely Australian content for Australian audiences. How does the Australian content differ from that offered in, say, the US or UK?
"There are very few outlets for Australian produced Christian television programs. We want to encourage Australian producers and program makers, by using CTA.tv to enable their programs to be more widely seen. Australian Christianity is a reflection of our culture and whilst the message of the Gospel is the same worldwide, we want CTA.tv to be an Australian expression of our faith."

Will you be adding content that will solely be available via that medium?
"The content currently on the site has been seen on commercial networks over the past three years, so firstly we see CTA.tv as an important archive of that material. However far more material than can every get to air has the potential to be produced and CTA.tv wants to provide an outlet for these programs."

I understand you're also calling on churches that have produced videos to upload them to the site. What sort of videos do you expect they will upload?
"With the development of the video generation and the relatively low entry cost of video production, many churches and organisations are producing short videos to promote sermon topics, ministries or events. Whilst these are often only two or three minutes long, we want churches to upload them to YouTube and let us know so we can link them into CTA.tv"

The site will also be offering a "supportive creative environment" for those keen to learn the techniques of video production. How do you envisage this working?
"As already mentioned, we’ll soon announce details of a funding program for new producers. With CTA.tv as one of the outlets for their content, we hope to enable their work to be seen far more widely and enable a collaborative environment to be set up."

What do you see as the greatest challenge for the CTA in the future?
"We need innovative and new ideas for Christian programs, which is why we have developed the funding program. Great ideas always generate support and we want to be one place where these ideas can develop, be encouraged and then grow to make a difference for the Gospel. CTA is supported through donations, which are tax deductible. Contact us for more information: [email protected]."

www.christiantelevision.org.au

• To see the new YouTube channel, head to www.cta.tv.