New Vatican streaming service aims to be ‘Catholic Netflix’

New Vatican streaming service aims to be ‘Catholic Netflix’

This image released by Netflix shows Jonathan Pryce as Cardinal Bergoglio, left, and Anthony Hopkins as Pope Benedict in a scene from "The Two Popes." VatiVision is launching June 6, aiming to be a more spiritual version of the popular streaming service. (Credit: Peter Mountain/Netflix via AP.)

The Vatican is collaborating in the launch of VatiVision, a new on-demand streaming service aimed at promoting Christian values through film.

ROME – In a move to keep pace with the rapidly developing digital culture, top Vatican officials have collaborated in the launch of VatiVision, a new on-demand streaming service aimed at promoting Christian values through film.

Speaking to journalists June 4, Paolo Ruffini, head of the Vatican communications department, noted that oftentimes, there are “many theoretical and practical problems in finding things that respond to the need for culture, for beauty, and the possibility of sharing and offering a quality cultural product” which helps people to rediscover faith and beauty.

“Here we have the beauty of being able to connect the past, the present and the future and to offer a response to the questions that in some sense we all have,” he said, referring to VatiVision.

In October 2019 Vetrya, an Italian digital research and innovation agency, and the Vatican office for communication announced the launch of the on-demand multidevice streaming service providing access to television series, documentaries and films inspired by Christianity.

Promoted with the slogan, “2020 years of culture, art and faith with film,” the new service is sponsored by UBI Bank. Viewers who access the platform, available at www.vativision.com, will have multiscreen access through television sets, laptops, tablets, and smartphones.

The service will also be available on TIMvision, the television service of one of Italy’s largest internet and cell phone service providers.

Presented to journalists Thursday, VatiVision will be available to the public Monday, June 8, offering a variety of content, including original programming such as Lourdes, a film documentary released in Italy in February, and the 2018 television series, I Grandi Papi, or “the Great Popes,” which follows the stories of Popes John XXIII, John Paul II, Benedict XVI and Francis.

The service will launch with a live-steamed event featuring speeches from the founders of VatiVision, Church representatives and actors in the films and series available through the service.

Clients will not be required to pay for a subscription and can purchase individual programs.

After its launch in Italy, the service will expand to what its creators deemed “primary” target countries, such as the United States, Mexico, Argentina, Brazil, Spain, Colombia, the Philippines, and Poland, eventually expanding into others.

During Thursday’s digital presentation of VatiVision, Ruffini said one of the most valuable aspects of the new service is that it has “an approach for everyone, beyond the editorial line it offers in terms of values of the faith.”

“It’s not something institutional, it’s not something from the Vatican or the Church, but from businesspeople who understand how much demand there is in the world for this type of product,” and to rediscover valuable contributions to art, culture and faith “that have been lost in a disposable culture.”

At a time when much of the world is experiencing difficulty due to the coronavirus pandemic, he praised the efforts of VatiVision creators for their willingness “to risk in thinking about the future, and not thinking about it in a disposable way, not of low quality, but a consumption that will last through time and a quality that also has the ability to last through time.”

He voiced hope that projects from the Vatican’s communications office “can have a new life and visibility through this service.”

Ruffini also stressed that although the Vatican has backed the project, it will not have the ultimate say in what makes the cut and gets added to the catalog.

“There is no obligation to defend institutional values,” he said, insisting that while part of the project, “we are not the editors.” Selecting featured items, he said, is a task that will be left up to experts in television and cinema who are better positioned to identify quality and find items that fit with the editorial line of the service.

Elizabeth Sola, an administrative delegate for VatiVision, said the service’s editorial committee will have representatives from the Catholic Church, cultural experts, and experts in art and cinema.

The idea in collecting films, series and documentaries to feature, she said, was not to have “an overabundance of content,” but to choose items that have “personality” and fit clearly with their editorial line, which focuses on quality contributions to art, culture and faith.

She said they also wanted to provide enough items so that a person would be able to make a “journey” on a certain topic, like a catechesis teacher who is looking for videos on the faith and sacraments.

Special content will also be provided surrounding holidays and major events, such as Christmas, Easter, Jubilees, and the canonization of saints.

Monsignor Dario Edoardo Viganò, former head of the Vatican communications department and current Vice Chancellor for the Academy for Science and the Academy for Social Sciences, noted he was engaged in producing films and videos dedicated to the Catholic faith in 2013 when he was head of the Vatican’s television service.

(It is worth noting that Viganò was compelled to resign from his position as head of the Vatican communications department in 2018 after doctoring an image of a letter from retired Pope Benedict XVI and editing out portions of the letter considered embarrassing. Ruffini was later tapped for the position following Viganò’s resignation.)

Viganò recalled that he and Ruffini collaborated on several projects together that were published on TV2000, the television station for the Italian bishops, which Ruffini used to head.

Pointing to VatiVision, Viganò voiced his belief that, “it will also be an occasion for many cinematographers to find an audience.”

One problem for people who produce cultural, artistic and faith-based content is distribution, he said, insisting VatiVision is “an initiative with great social impact” which can assist in “the spread of human and Christian values in the world.”

Though aspiring to be a Netflix-like streaming service, Ruffini said VatiVision is tailored to a more specific audience.

While Netflix and other streaming sites include sections on spirituality, with some Catholic-inspired series such as HBO/Sky’s “The Young Pope” and Netflix’s “The Two Popes,” he said VatiVision “has a more specific profile.”

VatiVision attempts “to give a perspective, a meaning, a journey which makes sense” to an informed audience and is established with “the need to share beauty” and quality in what is offered.

Follow Elise Ann Allen on Twitter: @eliseannallen

Latest Stories