Hallmark's Aim: Build on Rebranding

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Hallmark Channel's acquisition of the CBS family drama Touched by an Angel
last week capped off a successful first year for the rebranded general-entertainment service.

Since its name change from Odyssey Network last summer, the Crown Media Holdings Inc.-owned service has boosted its distribution by 13.7 million subscribers to its current 46.2 million, according to August 2002 Nielsen Media Research universe estimates.

Buoyed by strong ratings performances from acquired mini-series such as Roots, as well as original product like the series Adoption, Hallmark has also increased its household total-day ratings by 150 percent from August 2001 to July 2002 compared to the year-earlier period, according to Nielsen. Its 0.5 primetime rating in July was up 67 percent.

Hallmark executive vice president of programming David Kenin attributed the network's ratings and distribution growth to the presentation of more commercial programming. Odyssey proffered a lineup heavier in religion-oriented fare.

"You have to recognize that to a large extent, the programming before the re-launch was largely religious," Kenin said. "The kind of programming that we're putting on the air is a lot more powerful — both from an original and acquired standpoint."

Added network president and CEO Lana Corbi: "These rankings are evidence that Hallmark Channel resides with mature networks in viewers' minds. The value we add to the viewers' experience extends to advertisers, operators and investors as well."

Kenin believes the network can continue its momentum with several recent acquisitions and the launch of a monthly original movie franchise.

Just last week, the network purchased rights to CBS family drama Touched By An Angel
— currently running on Pax TV — which will debut on Hallmark Sept. 16.

For Pax, which had aired Touched by an Angel
since 1998, the move represents an opportunity to focus more on original programming projects, said president and CEO Jeff Sagansky.

SAMPLING SEEN

Hallmark's Touched
deal comes on the heels of the network's acquisition of the popular 1970s sitcom M*A*S*H
last month. "Between Touched
and M*A*S*H, we'll eventually have viewers who are sampling us that we didn't have before," Kenin added.

He said the network is seeking to acquire a number of other high-profile, off-network series, but would not reveal specific titles. Hallmark has a multi-year library deal with Paramount Domestic Television that could yield several shows.

The acquired series will complement Hallmark's ambitious plan to roll out 30 original movies within 30 months, many tailored around major holidays throughout the year.

Hallmark also netted major growth among key demographics during its first year. Among its primary target, women 25 to 54, viewership increased 110 percent in total day and 89 percent in primetime from August 2001 to July 2002, compared to the previous year.

But Kenin said the network's goal over the next two years is to drive younger and more male viewers to the channel.

"As we introduce M*A*S*H
and the [Saturday Western programming block], men will become very comfortable with the channel," he noted.

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