It's the holiday season, and few cable executives are more focused on spreading holiday cheer on the small screen as Great American Media president and CEO Bill Abbott.
With Great American Media’s Great American Family network amid its third annual “Great American Christmas” slate of holiday-themed original programming, Abbott, a former CEO of Hallmark Channel, has the family-friendly programming-focused network on a roll. Great American Family says it posted a 136% increase in total viewers from the year-ago period.
Abbott recently spoke to B+C Multichannel News senior content producer, programming R. Thomas Umstead about the network’s momentum, the rationale behind its June merger with Sony Entertainment’s Pure Flix streaming service and his thoughts on the business heading into the new year.
To what do you attribute the network’s increased growth in viewership over the past year? I think consistency wins, and we’re in a lane that is certainly underserved. When you’re able to be consistent in an area that has a need, you have the ability to be very successful. I think so much of entertainment is filling voids in the market, and I think that’s been the biggest piece of our success.
All-time favorite show? I Love Lucy
Shows on your DVR? My DVR is 99% full all of the time, but when I do get to sit down and watch it’s predominantly CNBC shows and a lot of sports.
Vacation destination? Tahiti or Bora Bora.
Books on your nightstand? Success Is a Choice: Ten Steps to Overachieving in Business and Life by Rick Pitino
All-time favorite Christmas movie? A Christmas … Present with Candace Cameron Bure (pictured)
Why did you pursue a deal for the Pure Flix streaming service and how does it enhance Great American Family’s brand? We’re thrilled that Sony felt strong enough about what we were doing and recognized that Pure Flix would be a great addition to the Great American Family. Pure Flix is a service that was started before streaming was cool, and the founders of it showed great vision in identifying this space and identifying this opportunity. Now it’s our privilege to build on that and broaden it, and make it even more of that destination for faith and family content.
Much as you did at Hallmark, why have you put a major emphasis on holiday programming at GAF? I think holiday programming really exemplifies what is so much a part of families — celebrations, special moments and the positivity and gathering together. It’s kind of that ultimate viewing time of the year when people are celebrating together and very much thinking about family. Christmas programming is central to being the leading provider in faith-and-family content and a very important part of what we do.
GAF’s programming has been criticized for not featuring enough diverse characters and storylines. What do you say to the network’s detractors regarding diversity? I think that as our company is evolving, we are becoming much more diverse. We have some terrific projects in 2024 that we are extremely excited about that feature a pool of [diverse] talent, from Karen Abercrombie to Percy Bell and Stacey Patino, who we believe are going to be big stars. They’re in an original series called County Rescue. I believe as people learn about our programming offerings moving forward in 2024, a lot of that criticism will go away. We are very focused on it, and we’re proud of what we have coming up.
How do you see the business evolving in 2024? I think we’re going to see bundling become a big piece of how the streaming model becomes profitable, along with more consolidation. I think streaming is very challenged in terms of churn and other dynamics that exist that make it very hard to be profitable. I also think the AVOD piece will become much bigger. What’s old is new, and the old model of the cable bundle with advertising is in all likelihood going to rule the day because that’s the most profitable model, and we have to pay for content to get produced. Quality content will always have a home, and viewers will always pay for quality content, so it’s just figuring out how to best package and position things for success.
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R. Thomas Umstead serves as senior content producer, programming for Multichannel News, Broadcasting + Cable and Next TV. During his more than 30-year career as a print and online journalist, Umstead has written articles on a variety of subjects ranging from TV technology, marketing and sports production to content distribution and development. He has provided expert commentary on television issues and trends for such TV, print, radio and streaming outlets as Fox News, CNBC, the Today show, USA Today, The New York Times and National Public Radio. Umstead has also filmed, produced and edited more than 100 original video interviews, profiles and news reports featuring key cable television executives as well as entertainers and celebrity personalities.