It's official: Church is the new Netflix

But don’t let that stop us meeting together

A new video-streaming platform dubbed the “Netflix of the Vatican” has just been launched in Italy.

VatiVision – which went live on June 8 – features on-demand Catholic-inspired television series, documentaries and films co-produced by Vatican Media.

VatiVision aims to use new technologies to further spread the Christian message.

Yet while the Vatican “looks favourably on this initiative”, it is not directly responsible for the platform, and has no editorial or financial control.

“It’s not something institutional, it’s not something from the Vatican or the Church, but from business people who understand how much demand there is in the world for this type of product,” said head of Vatican communications Paolo Ruffini (reported by Catholic News Agency).

VatiVision is a joint venture between Italian video production company Officina della Comunicazione and digital services company Vetrya. Their aim is to “offer a service capable of contributing through the new technologies we have at our disposal to further spread the Christian message with contents of great value and narrative depth.”

The types of content include documentaries on “the popes, saints, and the Shroud of Turin”, according to Catholic News Agency.

Another Catholic news service Crux adds that the platform will dish up special content for celebrations in the church calendar, such as Christmas and Easter – giving VatiVision a “more specific profile” than Catholic-inspired series on other streaming services (such as HBO/Sky’s The Young Pope and Netflix’s The Two Popes).

And unlike Netflix, subscription to VatiVision is free, with audiences able to purchase individual programs.

While there are plans to roll out VatiVision in other countries – including North and South America, the Philippines, Spain and Poland – there are no plans (yet) to bring it Down Under.

“I want to hope that this season of online church doesn’t turn our parishioners into consumers.” – Michael Stead

Churchgoers in Australia might be comfortable with that, given how much on-screen content they have been consuming – and still are – during the COVID-19 season. Along with the general public’s increased levels of watching TV shows and movies during the pandemic shutdown, many churchgoers have also regularly tuned in to church services online.

The intrusion of ‘Netflix consumer culture’ into our church experience is a fear expressed by Michael Stead, Anglican bishop of South Sydney, on a recent episode of The Pastor’s Heart podcast.

“I want to hope that this season of online church doesn’t turn our parishioners into consumers, who have got used to the idea of not having to get of bed on a cold winter’s morning and not having to serve on the morning tea roster because there is no morning tea – and they’ve got quite used to the idea that I sit up in bed and watch church in my pyjamas,” said Stead.

“Then suddenly, when we have to move back to ‘real church’, my fear is that we’re going to lose people on the way back.

“It wouldn’t be that we’ll lose people completely, but we’ll see a drop in attendance – people who used to be there every week, they might be there two weeks out of three.”

While Stead concedes there are positives aspects to the accessibility of online church – such as the whole family still being able to attend if one member is sick – he fears these may be outweighed when in-person church resumes.

“There are some upsides right now in terms of attendance but equally, that will be what will drop off first at the other end.”