For Crown Media Family Networks, winter giveth—and winter taketh away.
The Christmas holiday was once again a bonanza for the company’s Hallmark Channel.
On the strength of Countdown to Christmas, the network’s annual two-month collection of round-the-clock Christmas-themed programming, Hallmark Channel was the No. 1 cable network among women 25-54 in the fourth quarter, for the second year in a row. It was No. 2 in the women 18-49 demo.
“Traditional age/sex demographic ratings are really strong across the network, and we all know that is not the case in most other places,” said Ed Georger, executive vice president of ad sales & digital media, Crown Media Family Networks.
But there’s also a downside to the winter season: the latest snowstorm blanketing the northeast forced Crown Media Networks to cancel its upfront event, which had been scheduled for Wednesday night at New York’s Rainbow Room.
That meant that Georger missed out on the opportunity to hold “a celebration of what we think is the biggest success story in entertainment. I know that’s a big statement.”
But the ad sales chief thinks the performance of his company’s networks—which include Hallmark Channel and Hallmark Movies & Mysteries—is able to back up that bold statement, and proves that in a time of media consolidation, there’s still room for smaller companies like his to draw audiences and advertisers.
In lieu of the Rainbow Room event, Crown Media Family Networks CEO Bill Abbott, Georger, and Hallmark movie mainstays Candace Cameron Bure and Danica McKellar opted for Plan B: they appeared in a Facebook Live stream from New York’s Central Park, where they made a few announcements about Hallmark’s upcoming slate.
Hallmark renewed When Calls the Heart for a sixth season and picked up family reality series Meet the Peetes for a second season. Abbott also ordered a trio of new mystery movies for Hallmark Movies & Mysteries, renewed American Rescue Dog Show and announced that Hallmark Channel would air the Cat Bowl on Feb. 2, the day before Super Bowl LIII, as a precursor to its annual Kitten Bowl.
Crown Media Family Networks will go to market with a similar strategy it has employed in recent years. “Taking what we do so well during the fourth quarter holiday time period, and carrying that forward to seasonal opportunities throughout the year,” said Georger.
For starters, the two networks will air 34 original holiday films this year—22 on Hallmark and 12 on sister network Hallmark Movies & Mysteries—up from 33 in 2017. Together, the networks will air 90 new movies in 2018.
While movies are Hallmark’s bread and butter, the network has a stable of original series, including When Calls the Heart and Good Witch. And its two-hour morning talk show, Home and Family, has original episodes year-round. “That opens the door for integrations, and for advertisers to get involved in it,” said Georger.
Hallmark has also moved into the pet space, with its Adoption Ever After campaign. Last month it broadcast the 2018 American Rescue Dog Show (“an award show for the everyday dog,” said Georger), which will return in 2019.
“The formula that we have is working. We want to build on it and we don’t want to rest on our laurels, but we have something very unique in the marketplace,” said Georger.
Crown Media Family Networks won’t be going into the upfront with Hallmark Drama, its third linear channel, which launched in October, as it is only currently available in around 10 million homes. “Right now, we’re airing it with very few commercials to build up the audience,” said Georger, who anticipates going to market with it in the 2019-20 upfront.
Georger said he’s “very confident” in his company’s ability to hold its own in a space dominated by media consolidation among competitors like Time Warner, Disney, Fox, Discovery and Scripps.
“We pride ourselves on being able to be nimble in the market. Decisions are made right here with our two channels, and that can be a huge advantage when our competition sometimes has to navigate a number of different priorities all at once,” said Georger. “We’re a great example of how even the independent networks can not only compete with, but in many cases, outperform, the larger, consolidated groups.”
To that end, Lifetime announced during A+E Network’s upfront that it will be challenging Hallmark’s dominance in the holiday movie space, more than doubling its output of original movies in November and December, to 14 in all.
Hallmark isn’t worried about the competition. “It’s somewhat flattering that others want to follow in our footprints,” said Georger. But unlike Lifetime and other competitors, the Hallmark networks can devote themselves 24-7 to holiday and seasonal events.
“Others just don’t have the ability to do that,” he said. “They have other commitments to other day parts and other genres that don’t allow them to dedicate their channel to a certain time of year the way that we do.”
Crown Media isn’t making data and audience-targeting offerings much of a priority as some of its competitors during this upfront, although Georger said his team is able to conduct deals on those secondary demographics if clients prefer that.
Countdown to Christmas and the holiday event from sister network Hallmark Movies and Mysteries, The Most Wonderful Movies of Christmas, represents one-third of Hallmark Channel’s annual ad revenue, according to the company. Last year, the network brought in in an estimated $390 million in ad revenue, according to S&P Global Market Intelligence’s Kagan, while Hallmark Movies and Mysteries took in an estimated $146 million in ad revenue.