Former Hallmark Channel head Bill Abbott, whose family-friendly GAC Media has started to build an ardent following, plans to launch a direct-to-consumer app called Great American Community that will give fans original short-form content and a social-media forum to interact with GAC’s talent.
The new app will help GAC Media get into the over-the-top space, augmenting its cable networks GAC Family and GAC Living and enabling Abbott, who started out as an ad sales exec, to offer sponsors cross-platform packages in the fall holiday season after Great American Community debuts in September.
Abbott told Broadcasting+Cable that GAC is spending about $1 million to develop the app.
It will feature about 200 hours of content that will be exclusive to the app. Initial contributors will include Debbie Matenopoulos, Cameron Mathison, Shirley Bovshow, Kym Douglas, Maria Provenzano, Larissa Wohl, Lawrence Zarian, Toya Boudy, Amber Kemp-Gerstel, Emily Hutchinson, Mahaila McKellar, Jamie Tarence, Jen Lilley, Jill Wagner, Danica McKellar and Trevor Donovan. More are expected to join in.
At launch Great American Community will probably be free to consumers, but GAC is considering creating additional content and features that might appear on a premium tier.
“We're hopeful that we'd have a million people over the course of the quarter that would interact with the site and sign up and be part of it,” Abbott said. “It's amazing how these fans are so passionate about the movie content and the talent. If we can provide ways in which they can interact and watch them it will be really well received.”
Great American Community will also be home to GAC Giving and Caring, a new digital series that focuses on the many ways that GAC Family talent gives back. GAC Giving and Caring will raise awareness for important causes supported by GAC stars, such as bullying prevention and pet adoption, and will encourage fans to get involved to make a difference in their communities.
Abbott started GAC Media last year, buying the cable networks Great American Country and Ride TV and converting them into family-friendly GAC Family and GAC Living. Following the Hallmark playbook, he packed GAC Family with original holiday movies featuring many stars popular with viewers of Hallmark movies and series.
The app will be a different business from the channels featuring different, short-form content, some of it from the networks’ familiar faces.
“Fans are interacting with content in different ways and we think this is the perfect time for this type of app to enter the scene,” Abbott said. “I don’t think it’s ever been done in this way. We can pull this together because of our talent relationship, a really unique group that will be creating a lot of content for us.”
GAC will promote the app on its channels, and the app will help promote the channels, their movies and other programming.
“In a world, where awareness is very hard to gain, having a platform like this does a lot of good things for the brand and organizationally for us that we need right now,” Abbott said.
The app is expected to be available in all of the major mobile app stores and on connected TV devices.
Abbott said that users will sign on with a user name and password. They’ll be asked for a very limited amount of personal information.
One they’ve signed they’ll have a choice of watching a FAST-channel like feed of the app’s original channel or taking a more on demand approach to what they want to see and do.
Users will be able to search for content by talent or by categories such as cooking or decorating. There will also be seconds dedicated to seasons, holidays and the networks’ theme weeks, such as pumpkin picking in October or picking out a Christmas tree in December.
Other content on the app might include a book club, master classes and podcasts.
“We want to provide as many different entry points as we can into people's passion and interests,” Abbott said.
Programming on the app will be run by Tracy Verna, who was executive producer of Hallmark’s Home & Family daytime show under Abbott.
GAC fans are already active on social media. GAC Family has more than 1 million followers on Facebook, almost 300,000 followers on Twitter and 73,600 followers on Instagram. Abbott’s own handle has 12,400 followers on Twitter. Candace Cameron Bure, who signed an extensive content deal with GAC, has 5.5 million followers on Instagram and 3.6 million followers on Facebook.
The app will tap into that with a social area where fans can talk to each other and to GAC’s on-screen talent.
“That's why we call it community,” Abbott said. “We want it to be relentlessly positive. We want to take the negativity and the polarization out of the social element.”
Abbott said he’s aware of the pitfalls that can happen on a social platform and is prepared to moderate comments on the app. He said GAC has hosted movie pre-parties and after parties, and in that limited sample, there was been a minimum of negative commentary. “Unfortunately that’s the way of the world,” he said. “If you’re really looking to be negative there are other places you can go,” he said.
Abbott has included Great American Community in GAC’s upfront pitch to advertisers. The app creates additional ways for sponsors to align or integrate with holiday-themed content. Abbott envisions the app featuring shopping tips from Debbie Matenopoolis or Christmas decorating tips from Cameron Mathison.
“If you integrate into that, and then you add the linear platform and potential sponsorship of a movie, an advertiser can really put together a cohesive strategy around getting a message with a family-friendly brand and tap into that equity for their brand,” Abbott said. “The reaction has just been universally positive from the advertising side.”
Abbott has been working out deals with GAC talent to provide content for the app. Most will be producing two short-form videos a week.
GIVING AND CARING
The app will give GAC and its talent more opportunities to promote causes through Giving And Caring.
“This is going to allow us to work with our talent to spotlight their initiatives and to educate people on things like Trevor Donovan's anti-bullying campaign,” Abbott said.
The linear model restricts how many initiatives a channel can support at one time, he said.
“At Hallmark, we had our pet rescue initiative but there were many others that we wanted to do, from autism to breast cancer, and yet, your promotional ability is really limited,” Abbot said. “In digital, it's unlimited what you can do and Giving and Caring gives us an opportunity to give back in a way that is a big part of our corporate culture. Ultimately, we have a plan to donate a certain amount of our profit back to different charities. We think that we can do a lot of good in that way.”
GAC Media is working with tech firm Yupp to build the app.
“It’s a beast to manage because you're dealing with a lot of short form content that you're rolling out consistently. It's going to be critical that we keep this content fresh and that there are new elements every day. That's a heavy lift,” Abbott said.
Yupp has been” really terrific on the tech side and how we make all of that work,” he said. ■
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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.