The Five Spot: Bill Abbott

Bill Abbott clearly believes in the power of positive thinking, but it also helps to have the power of the positive programming that has found a big audience on cable.

Abbott, CEO of Hallmark Channel’s parent company, Crown Media Family Networks, says despite that ratings success, his channels (the others are Hallmark Movies & Mysteries and Hallmark Drama) continue to be undervalued in the marketplace, if not in the hearts of millions of viewers. It’s a disconnect he ascribes in part to lacking the microphone/megaphone of a mega-parent. “Given where our channel has been over time and our company has been, our success is very much under the radar,” he said. But Abbott does see that improving.

Hallmark has been active in Washington, D.C., and Abbott has a lot to say about the impact of the 1992 Cable Act and bundled retransmission-consent deals on the ability of independent channels to get carriage.

Abbott spoke with B&C senior content producer – Washington John Eggerton about his take on those and many other issues, including the “Trump effect.” An edited transcript follows.

You have said success is a choice. What do you mean?
If you are willing to work hard and do what is necessary, to do the research and investigate your career, you have a great opportunity to be successful. Every day we can wake up and decide what our attitude is going to be that day, whether we are going to be positive no matter what hand we’re dealt or whether we’re going to be negative and spread that energy. Once you make that choice, a lot of your success stems from that moment.

You have done a lot with Hallmark since taking over as CEO in 2009: Original movies, series, spinning off channels, the countdowns. Is it now mostly about maintaining that?
We have made great strides over the last three or four years in improving our content. Once we put the spokes of the wheel in place in terms of our franchises and events, and created great destinations for viewers, now it is all about insuring that everything we do, from the biggest movie to the smallest detail, pays close attention to the things that really resonate with our viewers and drive ratings.

‘Countdown to Christmas' begins before Halloween. There is 'Countdown to Valentine's Day.' Will we ever see a ‘Countdown to St. Patrick's Day' with Roma Downey?
We are cognizant of the fact that we don’t want to overplay our hand. Strategically, I think the appetite for softer holidays is not quite at the same level. When we do a holiday, we really want to do it right, so I think we will be very discerning in our approach.

What issues do you have with the 1992 Cable Act?
That legislation was crafted at a very different time, and not crafted with the intention of big conglomerates being able to use their broadcast networks and must-carry provisions to drive a suite of cable networks and the carriage, positioning and price of those networks. I think that has fouled up the entire cable offering across the board because a lot of channels that nobody watches, quite frankly, have to be carried by our distribution partners due to the fact that they have to carry the broadcast networks. The media conglomerates have all the leverage.

Your upbeat programming has been doing well in the ratings. Is there a 'Trump effect,' either as an antidote to the partisanship, or perhaps because you appeal to a mid-America that is getting more attention in Washington?
Many factors play into it. It is undeniable that the environment right now plays to our strengths. But that isn’t the only reason. The content we are creating is significantly better — the story line, the casting, the music, dialogue.

Certainly we are very strong with the portions of the country that typically the media or the entertainment business doesn’t live in. But we also have strong ratings in the top 10 or 20 markets, and don’t under-index in markets like Boston, Houston, Dallas, Chicago or Atlanta.