In a move to expand its reach with Christian audiences, Sony Pictures is buying a streaming service launched by the makers of the “God’s Not Dead” film franchise.
The Culver City-based studio on Thursday said it has agreed to purchase the faith-based subscription video service Pure Flix, which charges viewers $13 a month (or $84 a year) to stream evangelical-friendly movies and TV shows.
Financial details were not disclosed.
Following the transaction, the Pure Flix service will become a wholly owned subsidiary of Affirm Entertainment, which is the sister company of Affirm Films, the Sony Pictures division responsible for producing, distributing and marketing faith-based films including “War Room,” “Heaven Is for Real” and “Miracles From Heaven.”
The deal is the latest move by the studio, owned by Tokyo electronics giant Sony Corp., to tap the often lucrative audience for movies and television programming aimed at churchgoers. Sony expanded its Affirm Films unit, run by Executive Vice President Rich Peluso, by launching a television arm in December.
Affirm’s films, which tend to carry modest production budgets, have proved reliably profitable for Sony by broadening what’s often considered a niche genre to more mainstream audiences.
“Miracles From Heaven,” a $13-million inspirational movie starring Jennifer Garner, generated $74 million in global box office ticket sales in 2016. Last year’s sports drama “Overcomer,” the latest from Christian film stalwarts Alex and Stephen Kendrick, grossed $38 million on a budget of $5 million. Affirm also played a key role in promoting Marielle Heller’s “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood,” starring Tom Hanks as Fred Rogers, to Christian moviegoers.
Pure Flix Entertainment, the Scottsdale, Ariz.-based production company that launched the streamer in 2015, is not part of the acquisition.
However, its chief executive and founding partner Michael Scott will join Affirm to oversee management of the service. Pure Flix chief content officer and founding partner David A. R. White will also join Affirm as head of the service’s outreach and special projects. They will remain in Scottsdale, where most of the service’s 50 employees are located.
“Pure Flix is a natural fit with our Affirm brand, which is known for its high quality, uplifting, inspirational content,” said Keith Le Goy, Sony’s president of networks and distribution, in a statement. “Pure Flix has done an amazing job building a robust community of engaged subscribers, and we look forward to continuing to grow and delight audiences with well-curated faith and family entertainment.”
The 15-year-old Pure Flix’s movies tend to be more explicit in their religious aims than Affirm’s.
The company is best known for “God’s Not Dead,” a low-budget 2014 drama about a devout student’s conflict with an atheist professor that grossed $65 million at the global box office, despite poor reviews. The company also produced two less successful “God’s Not Dead” sequels as well as 2017’s “The Case for Christ.” Last year, it released the anti-abortion film “Unplanned.”
The “God’s Not Dead” series was part of a wave of movies in the mid-to-late 2010s that sought to appeal to Christian audiences who’ve often felt neglected by mainstream Hollywood. Hits included Roadside Attractions’ MercyMe music biopic “I Can Only Imagine” (2018) and Lionsgate’s divine visitation tale “The Shack” (2017).
The Pure Flix acquisition marks an expansion for Sony’s modest streaming business. Unlike competitors including Walt Disney Co., AT&T’s Warner Media, Comcast’s NBC Universal and Viacom CBS, Sony remains an outlier among the major Hollywood studios because it does not own a mass-market video-on-demand service, preferring to sell its content to other platforms.
Besides Pure Flix, Sony’s streaming businesses include anime channel Funimation and Crackle, an ad-based joint venture that it co-owns with Chicken Soup for the Soul Entertainment.
Credit: RYAN FAUGHNDER