‘Countdown to Christmas’ is back, and delivering the goods for CEO Bill Abbott

Hallmark channel’s annual ‘‘Countdown to Christmas” holiday programming stunt is delivering gifts for parent Crown Media holdings in both ratings and advertising. Hallmark tied ESPN as the most-watched cable network in primetime from Nov. 26 to Dec. 2, its first weekly its first weekly ratings win of the year.

Since launching its block of 22 original, family-friendly holiday films in late October, Hallmark is averaging more than 2 million viewers in primetime, double its tally during the third quarter. The first 14 of those telefilms — including Road to Christmas and A Shoe Addict’s Christmas — have averaged 3.6 million viewers.

On the advertising front, Hallmark and sibling Hallmark Movies & Mysteries garnered double-digit increases in price and volume within the upfronts and scatter markets due to the ratings success of Countdown to Christmas, according to Ed Georger, Crown Media Family Networks executive vice president of advertising sales and digital media. New this season: a Hallmark-branded SiriusXM satellite radio channel featuring holiday music and behind-scenes content from upcoming holiday movies, and an official Hallmark Channels podcast that launched Dec. 14.

Crown Media Family Networks' Bill Abbott

Crown Media Family Networks' Bill Abbott

Crown Media Family Networks president and CEO Bill Abbott spoke with Multichannel News about the network’s successful holiday programming run.

MCN: What is the secret sauce behind Hallmark’s continued success with its holiday-themed, original movie lineup?
Bill Abbott:
First and foremost, we have a brand that’s synonymous with the holidays, so we have a huge head start going into the holiday season. It’s hard to make that pivot to become a holiday content provider when you’ve been something very different all year long. Secondly, our content just gets better every year. We have worked, as you know, very hard on our story, scripts, casting, production value, music and all the different things that just make us more formidable every year and makes our library that much better every year. Thirdly, our marketing effort is reaching a new level this year with our partnership with Sirius. Our goal to be everywhere that the holiday/Christmas enthusiast is throughout the season is really at a new level. So those are three things that are very big advantages for us that are that are hard to compete with.

MCN: How has your holiday lineup performed in terms of advertising and sponsorship?
BA:
We’re having a great scatter market. We’re seeing CPM [price] increases that are significant, and we’re seeing revenue increases that are far outpacing the industry quarter-to-quarter and year-to-year. We’re No. 1 in the vast majority of demographics with the exception of probably adults 18-49, where sports are so big. So demographically, how it translates out on a total-day basis — which is how cable really is purchased by the advertiser — makes us really dominant throughout this time of year, and that drops right to the bottom line.

So it’s a very strong business model and one that advertisers love. They love our environment, and we’ve worked hard to make our environment special throughout the holidays. That translates to higher pricing, a better mix of advertisers and a better overall story on the ad sales side.

MCN: How does success during the holiday season translate to boosting revenue and ratings fortunes the rest of the year?
BA:
We’ve focused on holidays as a tentpole for our brand, which is all about celebration. So we have the tentpoles of Valentine’s Day, weddings and certainly Christmas and Thanksgiving. But we also have celebrations of the four seasons as well, so we’ve really expanded our content to create that feeling not dissimilar to when you walk into a Hallmark Gold Crown store. You would feel a lot of bright colors and a lot of different reflections of the season at retail that we chose to capture on air as well. That is something that advertisers really take into account, and it’s really helped us in terms of the marketplace. Nobody else can do that, because their brand isn’t synonymous with [the holiday season] the way ours is.

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