By Cian Molloy - 07 January, 2018
Last year was the busiest and most successful year yet for Church Support Group, the organisation behind Church Services TV and the CatholicIreland.net website that brings you the news stories that you are reading right now.
It was particularly good for Church Services TV (CSTV), which provides parishes with the equipment and software needed to broadcast their local Masses, and other church-based events, over the internet. In 2017, the number of parishes using CSTV increased by 30%. Until last year, CSTV clients were only in Ireland and England, but now the service is being used by parishes in Scotland and the USA, and there are expressions of interest currently being received from parishes in Australia.
“What was most encouraging about our performance last year is that several parishes returned to us,” said Church Support Group CEO Tony Bolger. “A number had switched to a low-cost rival, but they quickly came back to us when they found they couldn’t get the level of technical support and quality assurance that we provide.”
Last year, CSTV provided live-streaming for a total of 59,888 scheduled events and had some 15 million viewers from 205 countries. It is doubtful that there is any other broadcaster, not even the likes of Sky Sport, airing as many live events, yet the Church Support Group employs a team of only five full-time employees and barely a dozen part-time contractors.
CSTV’s biggest overall audience of the year was on Christmas Eve, when there were about 110,000 people across the world logging on to watch parish services. More than 12,000 people logged on to CSTV to view the Christmas Eve and Day Masses at Clonard Monastery in Belfast, and just under 5,700 people logged on to view Christmas Eve and Day Masses at Glenstal Abbey in Co Limerick.
“The audience figures we are dealing with are just growing and growing,” said Tony Bolger. “It is extremely difficult for us to predict what our audience will be in advance, so we have to regularly stress the system to ensure we can always provide our users with continuity of service, and the high level of quality assurance that we promise.
“Apart from Sunday and daily Masses and other scheduled church-based services, CSTV is used for the live-stream coverage of ‘unscheduled events’, such as funerals, weddings and baptisms. There is no way of predicting what the audience for these will be, but it is a much appreciated facility. Those who are overseas and can’t travel, or those who are housebound, really appreciate the ability that live-steaming gives them to be ‘virtually present’ at the funeral of a loved one.”
Poignantly, it is often at this time of year that the broadcasting of a funeral services is most appreciated by Irish emigrants living far from home. “We’ve received ‘thank you’ emails this week and last week from people in Australia and the US, who had been in Ireland for the Christmas break and who lost a relative just after they left the country,” explained Tony. “There is no way those people would be able to return back to Ireland so soon, but with the CSTV broadcast, they were able to look in on the Funeral Mass.”
In 2017, CSTV was enhanced with a new offering – Parish TV. This allows parishes to record their own audio-visual content. It could be something simple that can be regularly broadcast, such as Angelus Bells accompanied by local video footage, or it might be a live one-off, such as the annual blessing of the graves. Tony said, “The technology used is so simple and accessible that there is no reason why parishes can’t do their own programming. Anyone with a smartphone now has a video camera in their pocket.”
Separately, 2017 was also a good year for CatholicIreland.Net, with more than two million visitors to the site in the course of the year. The website team tweeted almost 22,000 tweets on Twitter and the CI.Net Facebook page has about 7,500 visits every month.
The group’s least well known division is Staffroom.ie, which is a job vacancies website for the primary school sector, and is one of only two external websites officially approved of by the Department of Education and Science. Last year, Staffroom.ie carried a record number of job adverts and the site is due to be re-vamped in 2018.
However, the biggest news story in 2017 that relates to Church Support Group involved a pontifical appointment. In June last year, Church Support Group co-founder Fr Alan McGuckian SJ, was appointed Bishop of Raphoe. His Episcopal Consecration took place in August 2017 at which Tony Bolger was present. It was a blessed event, and part of a busy year for Tony and the entire CSG team!