Hallmark Looks Beyond Christmas

CEO Abbott Says Family-Friendly Fare Is a Year-Round Fit
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Hallmark Channel heads into the 2015-16 upfront season on a ratings roll. The network’s family-friendly lineup of original scripted series, movies and acquired fare is up 17% in the primetime ratings in first-quarter 2015 compared to a year ago. Bill Abbott, president and CEO of Crown Media Family Networks, recently spoke to Multichannel News programming editor R. Thomas Umstead about the upfront market and the network’s plans for the year. An edited transcript follows.

MCN: How will Hallmark Channel and Hallmark Movies and Mysteries follow up last year’s ratings performance with this year’s original programming lineup?

Bill Abbott: With Hallmark Channel, we’ll be back with 40-plus movies and four original primetime series, and all of our special events like Kitten Bowl. What I think is really beginning to differentiate us from everyone is our strategy around franchises and events. You’ve seen how well we’ve done with Christmas and the whole “Countdown to Christmas” campaign, but our brand is so conducive to other times of the year like Valentine’s Day, back-to-school and Mother’s Day — places where the Hallmark [Cards] brand has lived for 100 years. Our strategy is to lean into that as much as possible to develop those events and franchises that we take ownership of. It’s different that anything anybody else has on TV.

Then Hallmark Movies & Mysteries will have 20 plus original movies in 2015-16. These will be different from Hallmark Channel — where Hallmark Channel is more on the lighter side of entertainment, the mysteries will be more of the character-driven “mystery wheel” type of movies that are more in the vein of Columbo and Matlock then they are more-salacious storylines.

MCN: Will you look to add more scripted content to your lineup over the next year?

BA: We have our fourth scripted series in development launching in 2016 called Chesapeake Shores, which is based on a series of books [of the same name]. When Calls The Heart launches within weeks [April 25] and has been significantly enhanced. That show is under the radar and I think that it will be very successful. We’re currently airing The Good Witch, which is the highest-rated original series for us to date, and we’re thinking about bringing it back for a second year. Cedar Cove returns for season three this year and, given its track record, we anticipate that it will be back for 2016 as well.

MCN: Given the often-salacious nature of original shows on other networks, do advertisers remain receptive to Hallmark’s more family-friendly content?

BA: That’s always been an advantage for us. We can assure a buyer on the client side that, 24/7, you never have to screen our content or worry about getting a letter from an angry viewer — it’s always quality, family-friendly fare. I think moving forward, the fact that so much of our programming is original, differentiated and branded with Hallmark, like “Countdown To Christmas,” that our content is significantly more valuable.

MCN: What is your prediction going into the upfronts?

BA: I think the writing is on the wall to a degree that the upfront will be probably similar to last year in terms of volume. I’m not sure about price yet, but in our case, just like we’ve gone against the ratings trend, we’re pretty sure we’ll do well. We feel confident that both channels will be up double digits on the volume side and pricing will be a little bit above the marketplace, given the fact that we are so undervalued.

We offer such a great efficiency that on its own is a reason to move money to us, but then look at the great content that we have. We provide remarkable value to an advertiser. The marketplace will be what it is, but we’ll be in a different spot.

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