Hallmark Ponders Theatrical Releases

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NEW YORK—Crown Media Holdings might create a series of Hallmark-branded movies for theatrical and DVD releases, president and CEO Henry Schleiff said at the Future of Television conference here.

“We are considering creating a feature-film label, carrying the Hallmark brand on it,” Schleiff said, in a keynote session Wednesday.

Crown Media, parent company of Hallmark Channel, has focused on producing original movies, raising its output from 10 to 15 per year to more than 35 this year.

With a theatrical release, followed by distribution on DVD, instead of “casting in Toronto with an unknown…all of sudden we could get a bigger budget,” Schleiff said. “We could go from $3 to $4 million per film to maybe $8 to $10 million with some recognizable names.”

As an example of the type of movie Hallmark might have bankrolled, Schleiff cited The Visitor, starring Richard Jenkins, released earlier this year by Starz’s Overture Films subsidiary.

Schleiff said original programming has been key to building the Hallmark Channel, saying the network’s unique selling proposition is to deliver family-friendly fare based on “strong storytelling.”

He said critics who complain that Hallmark’s films are predictable are missing the point.

“They are intended to be predictable. We want our audience—in an unpredictable world—to know that, yeah, that cowboy was going to marry the girl in the third act,” Schleiff said.

“It’s not intellectually compelling,” he added. “And we’re not trying to be. We know why that audience is there…That’s what makes us the 8th or 9th or 10th highest-rated cable network every single week.”

Schleiff was interviewed by Al Lieberman, executive director of the entertainment and media technology Program at New York University’s Stern School of Business, a co-producer of the Future of Television event.

Asked about brand extensions, Schleiff referred to the April launch of Hallmark Movie Channel. Beyond that, he joked, “Will you ever see a Hallmark After Dark? I think that’s a little bit of a stretch... The guys in Kansas City [where Hallmark Cards is based]—they’re super-sensitive about protecting this brand.”

Earlier this month, Crown Media reported third-quarter revenue of $64.5 million, up 17% from $55.3 million in the year-ago period. The company’s net loss of $17.9 million in the quarter was down from a $37.9 million loss a year ago.

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