Hallmark Embarks on Movie Adventure

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Buoyed by the success of its movie franchise, Hallmark Channel will launch a separate 24-hour movie service, beginning in January.

The Hallmark Movie Channel will feature films from the more than 4,000 library hours of programming held by Hallmark Channel owner Crown Media, as well as Hallmark Hall of Fame off-network movies.

Initially, the new network won't offer made-for Hallmark Channel films.

Movies and miniseries scheduled to appear on the service include Moby Dick, Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All
and Storm In Summer.

The ad-supported network — which at launch is expected to feature an eight-hour wheel that will be repeated twice throughout the day — will also showcase films beyond the Hallmark and Crown libraries.

But Hallmark executive vice president of programming David Kenin said every title will conform to the family-values brand. "The channel will have many of the characteristics of the Hallmark Channel, in that all of the products on it will be family-friendly," he said.

Also, like Hallmark Channel, the network will schedule themed movies around various holidays.

Network officials have talked to operators about the digital service, but admittedly have "low" distribution expectations. Crown Media Holdings Inc. president and CEO David Evans said during a Nov. 11 press conference here that the network would not require significant start-up fees, since content licensing deals and uplink facilities are already in place.

Hallmark COO and executive vice president Paul FitzPatrick would not reveal any rate-card specifics, declining to say whether the service would ask for affiliate fees or be offered for free. Executives did emphasize that the movie service would not be packaged with Hallmark Channel.

The movie channel announcement comes amid strong distribution and ratings gains for Hallmark Channel. The network is currently in 55.7 million households, up 7.6 million from a year ago — the third-highest increase behind only National Geographic and Outdoor Life, according to universe estimates from Discovery Networks U.S.

With a recently signed carriage deal with Comcast Corp. under its belt, Evans said it's just a matter of time before the network reaches full cable and satellite distribution.

Evans also said the network will have signed 300 advertisers by year-end 2003, while increasing ad revenue by 75% compared to 2002.

As for ratings, Hallmark garnered a 0.7 household rating during the third quarter, a 40% increase over the same period a year ago.

Hoping to further boost its ratings, Hallmark announced the acquisition of a pair of long-running off-net series: Diagnosis Murder and Magnum P.I.

Murder, starring Dick Van Dyke and currently airing on Pax TV, will premiere on the network in 2005, while Magnum, which features Tom Selleck and now runs on A&E Network, will come to Hallmark in January. The network did not disclose deal terms.

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