Bill Abbott’s GAC Media Unwraps Holiday Plans in Upfront Pitch

Christmas Time Is Here, starring Dewshane Williams Rukiya Bernard,
Last year's GAC Family holiday movies included 'Christmas Time is Here.' (Image credit: GAC Family)

It hurt GAC Media CEO Bill Abbott to have missed last year’s upfront and he is looking forward to this one like a kid waiting for Santa.

Abbot has a bigger second-year slate of holiday programming to sell, including a Thanksgiving programming event that will be hosted by Candace Cameron Bure, Small Town Christmas specials, The Great American Rescue Bowl running opposite the Super Bowl and a new ad-supported streaming television channel called Great American Adventure, wrapped up like gifts for media buyers and their clients.

Bill Abbott during the 2019 TCA

Bill Abbott in 2019 (Image credit: Hallmark Channel)

Abbott, who was in charge of advertising sales for Hallmark Channel before becoming CEO of its parent company Crown Media Family Network, started GAC Media last June.

GAC bought the cable channels Great American Country and Ride TV and relaunched them as GAC Family and GAC Live on October 15. It started airing original holiday content October 23.

Also: Former Hallmark Head Bill Abbott Unwraps GAC’s Holiday Expectations

”That was a very tough transition and that led to results that we didn’t love at the start,” Abbott told Broadcasting+Cable.

The timetable left little time for promotion, so not as many viewers found the channel at first.

And by that time, most advertisers had already committed most of their marketing budgets for the year, making it particularly tough to get ad dollars in the fourth quarter when GAC aired original Christmas-themed movies that normally attract spending from retailers and other seasonal advertisers.

“We paid the price all of this year for that,” Abbott said. “Last year’s market was so strong, you fear you probably missed it by a year. No matter how well you tell your story, you still might not have the same market conditions, although I think this year’s market seems like it will be pretty strong.”

GAC will be going into this year’s meetings with media buyers and advertisers with more than promises. There’s a track record demonstrating the quality of the holiday programming it will air and that those shows will have the stars that people who like holiday movies will tune in to see.

Abbott is working from the successful formula he used at Hallmark Channel.

“We’re certainly selling family-friendly content and quality original movies with talent that people love and resonate with viewers,” he said. “We’ve had a lot more time to prepare and market and do all the things necessary to drive a much bigger audience. We feel really good about where we will be in the fourth quarter.”

Added Kristen Roberts, another former Crown Media exec, who as chief revenue officer and executive VP programming is in charge of not only ad pricing, planning and inventory, but with matching up ad clients with programming they can sponsor: “If you look at the library that we built up last year with all of that original content, it just make it a much stronger offering and make us feel a lot better about where the numbers will be this fourth quarter.” 

GAC sees advertisers with a need to reach viewers around the holidays and is looking to meet those needs.

“There are so many advertisers that are really focused on certain times of the year than ever before and we are a good solution in the linear landscape,” he said. "With all of the original content it airs, there are plenty of integration and sponsored-by opportunities available."

“A lot of channels have migrated their content over to their SVOD And AVOD services,” Abbott added. “We are still primarily a linear play and that gives up the ability to create on-air experiences through focus and through talent that is different and unique.”

Candace Cameron Bure GAC Media

Candace Cameron Bure (Image credit: GAC Media)

Linear channels are still available to advertisers because they deliver at scale, Abbott said. He expects GAC Family to be in 60 million homes by the fourth quarter. (GAC Living doesn’t have enough homes for the upfront market this year, Abbott said).

GAC Family will be kicking off its holiday season programming with a Thanksgiving programming event hosted by Candace Cameron Bure, one of many stars familiar to Hallmark fans now appearing in GAC Family films. After the specials, GAC will bracket retail holidays Black Friday and Cyber Monday with original movies Friday, Saturday and Sunday. “We kind of turned the corner last Thanksgiving,” Abbott said.

The network has no scripted series yet, but it planning to start a series of Small Town Christmas events starting in Kentucky. It will feature feel-good content shot in a small town where GAC talent will visit, help out in hospitals and shelters and put on a show for the community.

After New Year’s on Super Sunday (another important American holiday) GAC will air The Great American Rescue Bowl, which starts up after Hallmark Channel stopped running its Kitten Bowl, a staple under Abbott. The Rescue Bowl will be hosted by former Kitten Bowl host Beth Stern.

Getting Into the FAST Game

Advertisers these days also need some digital assets and GAC will be launching a free, ad-supported linear TV channel called Great American Adventures. Abbott said the channel will be programmed with content it acquired when it bought Great American Country from Discovery. “We want to be in the game,” he said.

Abbot said Great American Adventure will launch later this month. It has a distribution deal with Xumo and he expects it to be also carried on Roku, Samsung and most of the other key FAST platforms.

GAC has also been working to create a sort of interactive fan portal for the network that will enable viewers and the network’s talent to form more of a community.

GAC has been having upfront conversations with advertisers since February. Those have mostly taken place over soon.

“We talk about an event, but with so many people working remotely, we’ve been pretty much doing Zooms, with maybe little in-person side meetings or lunches and breakfasts where we can,” Roberts said.

“On some levels, that’s disappointing and unfortunate,“ Abbott added. ”It’s great connecting with people. But it’s allowed us to cover a lot more ground quickly without having to travel to Detroit or Chicago and all the other places around the country.” 

GAC is also fortunate because while the company is new, its sales force, some of them Hallmark veterans, have strong ties with buyers.

“The feedback has been nothing but supportive,” Roberts said. “I think because of what Bill has done and built in the past, there’s an immediate understanding and recognition of what we’re doing. We’re having great meetings and we’re excited to get underway and start the upfront in earnest.” ■

Jon Lafayette

Jon has been business editor of Broadcasting+Cable since 2010. He focuses on revenue-generating activities, including advertising and distribution, as well as executive intrigue and merger and acquisition activity. Just about any story is fair game, if a dollar sign can make its way into the article. Before B+C, Jon covered the industry for TVWeek, Cable World, Electronic Media, Advertising Age and The New York Post. A native New Yorker, Jon is hiding in plain sight in the suburbs of Chicago.