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Crown Banks on Holiday Spirit Amid COVID Confusion

Christmas at Graceland
Crown Media Family Networks says the anticipation for the yearly “Countdown to Christmas” movies shoud bring some normalcy to the ad-sales process. (Image credit: Hallmark Channel)

 While COVID-19 has altered some traditions — the Kentucky Derby, 4th of July fireworks, the upfront — Crown Media Family Networks expects to benefit from some things that won’t change.

“While there’s a lot of uncertainty, one thing we know for sure that will not be canceled is Christmas,” Ed Georger, executive VP for sales at Crown, said.

Christmas means big ratings for Crown, which will be running holiday programming 24/7 on its two main networks, Hallmark Channel and Hallmark Movies & Mysteries, as part of its 10th “Countdown to Christmas.”

The upfront market, usually mostly done by July 4, is running late as marketers try to figure out how to do business in a pandemic. Georger thinks Crown’s upfront will be more “normal” than other media companies because many of its advertisers are in categories that are likely to be comfortable making upfront deals now, such as consumer packaged goods, insurance and pharmaceuticals.

Ed Georger

Ed Georger (Image credit: Hallmark Channel)

“That group will commit probably to a more traditional broadcast year upfront, and for us, I think that’s going to be a lot of our businesses,” he said. 

Deals Still Pending

Crown hasn’t closed any upfront deals yet, Georger said. “We're in discussions with most of the major [agency] groups. My feeling is they still are trying to assess the temperature and the tolerance of their clients.”

Another group in more challenged categories, like automotive and retail, will place fourth-quarter budgets and delay the rest of their negotiations until October or November. “Or maybe we’ll negotiate that now, knowing there’s going to be flexibility on those orders, and that’s fine too,” Georger said. “We can work within those parameters.” 

The last group — travel, cruise lines, quick-serve restaurants — aren’t big spenders at Hallmark. They may buy in scatter or shift to a calendar year upfront.

In addition to flexibility — the ability to adjust schedules to solve clients’ issues — the big talking points in the upfront seem to be transparency and trust. Crown earned some trust by working with advertisers in the turbulent days of April and May. That paid off when third-quarter options came in lower than expected, Georger said, and as the scatter market improved in June. “We have a business to run, too, but I think making some short-term adjustments and sacrifices as good partners should ultimately come back around,” he said. 

Crown’s networks will also benefit from the kind of feel-good content they offer. Amid news about viruses and elections, “there’s going to be more of a need than ever arguably to feel good and escape, and that holiday will bring out that spirit. Our commitment to our holiday programming will play very well for us,” Georger said, adding that a lot of holiday commercials are emotional. “They’re connecting people and that plays very well in our environment.”

Production Delays

The pandemic has affected TV production. but Hallmark has managed to crank out the 40 original holiday movies that had been planned. Hallmark also has a vault full of holiday movies that fans watch over and over, and the top films from 2018 and 2019 will find their way into this year’s Countdown to Christmas.

The network expects to generate some attention when it rolls out its slate of new Christmas movies and makes a series of high profile casting announcements.

And with Universal Studios reopening, Hallmark Channel will be able to restart its daytime Home & Family show. 

“There’s a level of reliability in what we’ll be doing in the fourth quarter, so in a time of uncertainty, there’s certainly some advantages to having our strategy set in place,” Georger said.