What could prove to be a game-changing initiative for Christian stores was announced at UNITE 2016. A strategic alliance between CBA and Content Road Media Corporation will bring high-margin exclusive releases to Christian stores, driving traffic and helping reestablish the channel as a key vehicle for reaching the faith-based community.

Christian retail exclusives

While Christian store specials have been available before—from DVD releases with exclusive extras, like Fireproof, to a sales window ahead of the general market, as with VeggieTales—the scale of this new program is unprecedented: according to CBA President Curtis Riskey, up to 100 exclusives could come to Christian stores over the next year. First to market will be The Samaritan, an 80-minute docudrama releasing in the fall. It tells the story of attorney Eddie Roush’s daring effort to help reunite a Romanian defector with his family by securing their freedom from the oppressive Communist nation, in the 1980s. The DVD will be available for purchase only in Christian stores for several months before going to other channels. And it will be sold to Christian retailers at higher-than-usual margins and with a tithe element—a free copy for every ten ordered.

New life for Christian retail

Other releases will follow with a similar window for exclusive sales, and a portion of profits going to CBA. Next up will be CCM United, a DVD and CD featuring the top 25 Christian songs of all time in concert, with Michael W. Smith, Amy Grant, and Steven Curtis Chapman among the featured artists.

There was an enthusiastic response to the partnership when it was detailed in three special UNITE 2016 presentations, with preview screenings of The Samaritan. “I think the program will be something that can bring life back into Christian retail,” said Wayne Rawls, who with his wife, Glenna, has owned Solomon’s Porch Christian Books & Gifts in Benton, Kentucky for 17 years. “Fresh thinking is important in our industry, always looking for new ideas and new content,” he said. “I’m looking forward to seeing the industry working together.”

Following a calling

The Samaritan director Kevin McAfee, who formed Content Road with Roush, acknowledged the ambitious nature of the program. “We’re definitely taking a gamble,” he said. “I believe it’s a spiritual calling. There are some things that don’t make sense to the world, but those of us who follow God, we follow something higher and if we can prove this model, think what this could do.” An early figure in the Christian industry—he made 2003’s End of the Spear docudrama about the 1956 Auca missionary martyrs—McAfee originally intended to release The Samaritan several years ago, but plans fell through. Recent events spurred him to revisit the project, he said. Dealing with religious persecution, the film is timely in the way it “speaks to immigration, who are our neighbors,” he said.

Moving the needle

Riskey welcomed The Samaritan as what he called “the first stone in a landslide.” Urging CBA retailers to embrace the initiative, he said that a stream of exclusives could help breathe life back into Christian retail. “As we get an opportunity, let’s move the needle,” he said. “When we move the needle, suppliers take notice. When suppliers take notice, the next time we get an A-list project they’re going to look to us,” Riskey said. “This is something I think this industry has needed for so long. One of the things is, when we’re given an opportunity we do have to step forward into that opportunity.”

More details about the CBA-Content Road Media Corporation strategic alliance are available at the CBA website, including a video Q-and-A with McAfee and Roush, and a trailer for The Samaritan.

-Andy Butcher