Celebrating a Decade of Yule Countdowns

Hallmark Channel will mark 10 years of its “Countdown to Christmas” holiday movie stunt with more than 40 originals airing on Hallmark and Hallmark Movies & Mysteries over the next three months, beginning Oct. 26. Crown Media Family Networks president and CEO Bill Abbott spoke with Multichannel News about the success of the programming franchise — last year’s edition drew a cumulative 70 million unique viewers — as well as some of the challenges facing Crown. Here’s an edited version of the interview.

Bill Abbott

Bill Abbott

MCN:Why has “Countdown to Christmas” resonated with viewers for the past 10 years?

Bill Abbott: The movies are very high quality. We’ve made a lot of progress in terms of the quality of our content. Also, we take great care in the commercial environment that we put our movies in. We don’t accept commercials that would make viewers uncomfortable. We also create interstitial content around our movies that makes people feel at home.

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MCN:Do you worry about an increase in competition surrounding holiday programming, and has the genre become diluted?

BA: Certainly it has around the margins. There’s no question that your business gets impacted with increased competition. But at the end of the day, Hallmark is so synonymous with holiday — and our content is done in a way that we think is at the highest level of quality — so I believe that we will be in a good position.

MCN: How have advertisers embraced ‘Countdown to Christmas’ over the years?

BA: We’re doing a lot more business with financial services, automotive and travel -- categories that you wouldn’t necessarily associate our brand. Also the typical retail, packaged goods, pharmaceutical categories have also stepped up in a big way. The marketplace has embraced the success. 

MCN: Have you benefited from expanding the “Countdown to Christmas’ brand outside of television? 

BA:We believe music is the key driver of emotions -- especially at Christmas -- so within the music space our deal with SiriusXM for a dedicated Hallmark Channel Radio [channel] in November and December has been successful. We have a publishing division that publishes Christmas books and is becoming more prolific in that area. Digitally, our Countdown To Christmas app is vibrant and very popular in terms of sending reminders about when our content is on. On the SVOD side, Hallmark Movies Now is prolific in terms of the [holiday] content that exists on that platform.

MCN:What are some of the overall challenges in this crowded TV environment?

BA: We’ve had great success on the [SVOD] side — we have over 700,000 subscribers. We’re not trying to compete with Netflix, but we’re in the space in a big way with differentiated content. That said, I think the $5.99-a-month math doesn’t necessarily add up the same way it does on the linear model. I think the whole entertainment business is challenged with making the SVOD model work, along with making more comparable the value of the SVOD subscriber versus the value of the subscriber on the linear side. Right now, there’s a big gap, and it’s a big challenge for everyone moving forward in the business.

R. Thomas Umstead

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.