Efforts to significantly increase the amount of original programming on the Crown Media Family Networks’ two cable channels are already paying off with advertisers and viewers, senior executives of Crown Media said on Thursday.
At a luncheon for reporters in New York, the executives described how they would accelerate a push to add original programs to appear on Hallmark Channel and Hallmark Movie Channel during the 2013-14 season. For instance, Hallmark Channel, which will introduce in July its first original prime-time series, “Debbie Macomber’s Cedar Cove,” intends to offer viewers four original series in prime time by March 2014.
And “Home & Family” — an original, two-hour lifestyle show that has appeared on Hallmark Channel on weekday mornings since October, hosted by Cristina Ferrare and Mark Steines — is already being renewed for a second season.
Also, the executives said, Hallmark Movie Channel will present for the first time original movies with Christmas themes, beginning in fall 2013 with a film, “Christmas With Tucker,” featuring James Brolin. The film will be part of programming under the banner “Most Wonderful Movies of Christmas,” echoing a popular annual feature of the Hallmark Channel holiday schedule, “Countdown to Christmas,” which will also be bolstered with additional original movies.
As a result, said William J. Abbott, president and chief executive at Crown Media Holdings, which does business as Crown Media Family Networks, “we’re off to a great start” in negotiations with advertisers and agencies ahead of the 2013-14 season in what is known as the upfront market.
The gains compared with what Crown Media took in during the 2012-13 upfront market will be “strong, strong,” Mr. Abbott said. “We think our volume will be up 20-plus percent.”
Crown Media is joining a lengthening list of media companies turning to original programming to replace or supplement the longtime mainstay of the cable schedule: reruns of series shown on broadcast networks.
Among the channels engaged in the television equivalent of the space race — all seeking to beef up original offerings to generate higher ratings from viewers and more advertising dollars from marketers — are A&E, ABC Family, AMC, BBC America, Bravo, FX, History, Lifetime, Oxygen, TBS, TNT and USA.
The rush to original programming is even extending beyond traditional television, as evidenced by new series from unconventional sources like Amazon, Netflix, Participant Media and YouTube.
“It’s really to brand yourself and be different,” Mr. Abbott said. “Running original series, original content, is critical.”
And the shift to originals can also be beneficial “on the digital side,” he added, citing the Web sites of cable channels like hallmarkchannel.com as well as systems for watching television online like TV Everywhere.
Ed Georger, executive vice president for ad sales at Crown Media and general manager of Hallmark Movie Channel, said he believed the “success that cable has had with original series” could be attributed partly to a desire among marketers to sponsor “serial programming” that audiences like enough to come back every week to watch.
“That’s where, for us, scripted storytelling is so important,” Mr. Georger said. “We believe the strength of Hallmark storytelling is more engaging and more of value to the advertiser.”
Marketers “are still very interested in having their commercials in the right environment,” he added, “and that certainly differentiates us.”
At one point during the luncheon, Mr. Georger took a poke at competitors by contrasting the “family-friendly, scripted, quality storytelling” on the two Crown Media channels with the “reality, game-show and pseudo-documentary-style programming” on other cable channels.
“Cedar Cove,” starring Andie MacDowell, is to make its premiere on Hallmark Channel on July 20 as a two-hour movie, then continue with 10 hourlong episodes from July 27 through Sept. 28. A special “Cedar Cove” holiday movie will appear during the channel’s “Countdown to Christmas” programming for 2013.
The other three original prime-time scripted series on Hallmark Channel will be: “When Calls the Heart,” based on novels by Janette Oke set in the Canadian West, to make its debut as a two-hour movie on Oct. 5 and then as a series in January; “Dead Letters,” about employees of the Postal Service’s dead letter office, to be based on a two-hour movie with the same title to be shown on Oct. 19; and “My Gal Sunday,” based on a book series by Mary Higgins Clark about husband-and-wife sleuths. The “Dead Letters” and “My Gal Sunday” series are expected to make their debuts in March 2014.
Hallmark Channel and Hallmark Movie Channel will offer 33 original movies this year, said Michelle Vickary, executive vice president for programming at the two channels, and 50 next year.
There will be 1,850 hours of holiday programming on the two channels for Christmas 2013, in contrast to the 464 hours for Christmas 2010 that ran only on Hallmark Channel.
The expansion of programming with holiday themes reflects interest among marketers in reaching consumers during the important Christmas shopping season, Mr. Georger said, particularly in categories like retail, auto, games and electronics.
For those wondering if all that Christmas programming was inspired by Hallmark greeting cards, Hallmark Cards owns 90 percent of Crown Media Holdings; the remaining 10 percent is publicly traded, on the Nasdaq Market.
Crown Media is the most recent in a skein of media companies to make upfront presentations ahead of the 2013-14 season. Many more have presentations scheduled in the next month, including Bravo, Discovery, E!, FX, IFC, GSN, MTV, Mun2 and Syfy.
Source: NY Times, 3/21/13