History Channel’s ‘The Bible’ Is a Marketing Miracle

History Channel’s ‘The Bible’ Is a Marketing Miracle

By Bilge Ebiri on March 14, 2013

It’s a tense night in Sodom. God’s judgment has arrived, and fire rains down from the skies. The beleaguered, henpecked Lot, a nephew of Abraham, shuffles two mysterious Jedi-like figures into his home. A group of armed Sodomites soon bursts through the door and demands that the men be given up. One of the “Jedis” unsheathes two swords and swiftly dismembers the men.

The scene ends the first episode of a new, 10-part miniseries on the History Channel called The Bible, which garnered 14.1 million viewers last week—more than any other show on cable television in 2013. Produced by Mark Burnett, the reality-TV pioneer best known for SurvivorThe Apprentice, and Shark Tank, and his wife, Touched by an Angel actor Roma Downey (who also plays the Virgin Mary), the miniseries appears to have been conceived primarily for religious audiences—or at least those knowledgeable of scripture. It’s also packaged with enough bloodlust to capture channel surfers. In that regard, the series resembles Mel Gibson’s 2004 film, The Passion of the Christ, a movie bloggers called The Jesus Chainsaw Massacre—and which raked in more than $600 million at the box office.

Burnett hasn’t just re-created Gibson’s righteous bloodshed, he’s also adopted The Passion’s marketing methods. The producers linked up with faith-based groups, distributed study guides, and previewed the series at churches. They courted big-name evangelical figures. Discussing The Bible with his congregation in March, Saddleback Church Pastor Rick Warren declared, “God is about to do something really great.” Judging by the show’s initial popularity, its marketers deserve a prodigal feast.

The series begins with a bearded Noah aboard a listing ark during a tempest shouting the story of Adam and Eve to his passengers. If the History Channel is to be believed, there is no shortage of shouting in the Bible. Later in the story, an obese Herod, covered with leeches, shouts at a Jewish rebel: “I built the holy temple!” Then he stabs the prisoner in the neck for good measure.

As a work of narrative storytelling, The Bible falls short. The characters are just as one-dimensional as the ones described in a Sunday school fable, only angrier. And at 10 hours, the miniseries is more of a holy highlights reel than a coherent story. Like an endless film trailer, it’s replete with hurried voice-over (provided by actor Keith David), manufactured suspense, and glimpses of major plot points.

Of course, the filmmakers had to do some pruning—so no Job suffering at the hands of God or Jonah being swallowed by the whale. Things slow down, thankfully, to a regular pace once Jesus arrives in Episode Five. And there are some satisfying parts along the way. In one scene, a dying Samson (played by Game of Thrones’ Nonso Anozie) shares his final moments with his mother, in the wake of his destruction of a Philistine temple. It’s a rare human moment amid the rush of almighty events.

The miniseries cost $22 million, paltry compared with the $200 million HBO (TWX) spent on the 2010 war epic The Pacific. And there are reports that Burnett will cut The Bible down to a feature film. Whether or not the story profits from a shorter running time is uncertain. The bottom line certainly will.

About bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (www.heroinnovator.com), the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

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