Hallmark Gets Original


Hallmark Movie Channel will premiere its first original telefilms early next year, while progenitor Hallmark Channel expects to launch its initial original series in the third quarter of 2010.

Hallmark Channels senior vice president of programming Barbara Fisher said Hallmark Movie Channel — now in all of the nation’s top-30 DMAs following last week’s launch by Time Warner Cable in Cleveland — will make its initial foray into original movies with a pair next spring.

As for parent Crown Media Holdings’ flagship network, Hallmark Channel is currently assessing projects and expects to bow an unscripted show in the middle of next year.

Fisher, who succeeded David Kenin in heading programming for the family-friendly networks, said the two original films for Hallmark Movie Channel will be drawn from a batch comprising six in various stages of production and another half-dozen that already have been wrapped.

Hallmark Channels SVP of programming Barbara Fisher

The call should be made by year-end and will come from a movie mix reflective of Hallmark Channel’s recent decision to adopt a year-round seasonal/holiday push that matches up well with parent company Hallmark Cards’ business of celebrating special occasions. Over the years, Hallmark has enjoyed strong ratings and promotional success centered around Christmas-themed original telefilms. This year, Hallmark Channel's Christmas lineup of original movies features: The National Tree, Nov. 28; Debbie Macomber's Mrs. Miracle, Dec. 5; Christmas in Canaan, Dec. 12; and The Three Gifts, Dec. 19,

Fisher wouldn’t disclose the themes for the films being considered for Hallmark Movie Channel other than to say, “We will try to make them events, echoing the 'Hallmark Hall of Fame,’ ” she said. “Obviously, we want to heavily promote these films; they are the network’s first forays into original production.”

The telefilms will be added to the service’s lineup of theatricals, Hallmark Hall of Fame presentations and some Hallmark Channel original movies.

Original series have long been part of the discussion at Hallmark Channel — Fisher said there have been conversations about moving in this direction since she arrived at Hallmark 30 months ago. The show will be added to the network’s “blend” of theatricals, original movies and acquired series.

At this juncture, Fisher reports that the network has “heard pitches and is making evaluations. We’re likely to go to pilot on a couple before making a decision.”

She said the original productions would help shape the networks’ voices and “make them destinations for viewers.”

In addition to the original series, the programmer, which commissioned two dozen telefilms for 2009, is planning between 20 and 24 original movies for 2010.

Fisher said that Hallmark is in the “budget process right now.” While she wouldn’t disclose projected outlays, Fisher said the programmer, with its commitment to films for both services and now its first original series, is “increasing its budget.”

Given a push by Hallmark Cards to restructure the debt of Crown Media Holdings, the parent of Hallmark Channel, some have expected the network to reduce its programming costs.

Hallmark Channel telefilm National Tree

With its launch on Time Warner Cable in Cleveland on Oct. 15, Hallmark Movie Channel is now in all top 30 markets in the U.S.

Coupled with new launches year-to-date in Comcast systems in Detroit, South Florida, San Francisco, Washington state, Portland, Boston, Atlanta, Houston and Pittsburgh; on Time Warner in Charlotte; on Cox systems in Phoenix and Las Vegas; and, on Charter in St. Louis, Hallmark Movie Channel has doubled its subscriber base to 25 million over the past year. Continued rollouts are expected to build that base to some 30 million by the end of first-quarter 2010, en route to as many as 35 million to 40 million by the close of next year, according to Janice Arouh, executive vice president, affiliate sales and marketing, Hallmark Channels. It is expected to become Nielsen-rated sometime next spring.

She said that many of the agreements for Hallmark Movie Channel were forged during negotiations for the flagship network with top distributors during 2007 and 2008. Having added 2.5 million subs over the past year, Hallmark Channel is now in some 88 million homes.

Arouh said the networks have resonated with viewers during these difficult economic times. “Families aren’t going out as much,” she said. “With stories about continuing economy difficulties and war in the news, families are gathering in their living room and looking for uplifting experiences that Hallmark Channel and Hallmark Movie Channel provide.”