Brigham Young University has developed a reputation within the entertainment industry for its ability to turn out well-trained graduates with technical and storytelling skills, middle-American values, and solid work habits—making them prized hires in fields like movie animation. (See 1999 item nearby.) The latest area of growth and achievement is in television.
BYUtv is a major enterprise at the university, with a budget of $40 million per year, some of it coming from institutional support or commercial sponsorship, but most of it philanthropically funded. Fully 350 students work half time in the production studios, which also have 100 full-time employees. The most valuable “output” of the operation is thus not actually its programming, but the fully trained students who leap from BYU’s Utah campus to Hollywood, Manhattan, Nashville, and other centers of entertainment production.
Thanks to donor support, the BYU studios now feature state-of-the-art digital equipment. With it, the department produces some 1,200 hours of television per year, which it distributes free all around the world via Internet streaming, cable distribution, and broadcast. And the organization has a special mission: to help people see the good in the world, via high-quality, wholesome, entertaining programing that entire families and people of all faiths and backgrounds can enjoy.
Both the “wholesome” and the “entertaining” parts of that equation are important. “You want your kids to eat broccoli, and they want to eat pizza,” analogizes Scott Swofford, the director of content at BYU Broadcasting. “We’re making broccoli pizza. The balance for us is if there’s too much broccoli and edifying and uplifting and faith-based content, then no one’s going to eat the pizza.”
So BYUtv has shows on American history, on the charitable spirit, on family life, on holidays—but all of it works hard to be amusing. As often as not, it succeeds. The sketch-comedy show “Studio C,” for instance, has drawn 40 million online views in just a few seasons. The Cold War drama “Granite Flats” is produced at a cost of $1 million per episode—about a third the cost of a typical network drama—yet is winning accolades. In recent years, BYUtv programs have won more than two dozen regional Emmy awards.
- Website of BYU Broadcasting, byutv.org