Great American Family Unwraps Advertisers for Holiday Movies

Great American Family Film Candy Cane Lane
'Candy Cane Lane,' one of the upcoming holiday films on Great American Family (Image credit: Great American Family)

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas to GAC Media CEO Bill Abbott and the other elves selling advertising on Great American Family’s original movies and other holiday programming.

Abbott, the former Hallmark Channel head who started up GAC last year and is following the Hallmark holiday programming playbook, told Broadcasting+Cable that top tier sponsors including Dairy Queen, Physicians Mutual, Johnson & Johnson, KImberly-Clark, L’Oreal, Chase and Boar’s Head are advertising on the network, many for the first time.

"We had such a successful upfront," Abbot said. "We picked off a lot of what was probably some low-hanging fruit too. And next [year] we’ll have that next level of success with more of those blue chip advertisers and different categories and drive revenue to greater levels."

Bill Abbott during the 2019 TCA

Bill Abbott (Image credit: Hallmark Channel)

Kristen Roberts, chief revenue officer and executive VP of programming at GAC Media told B+C that dollar volume of ad commitments doubled in the upfront and that prices were up about 50% on a cost-per-thousand viewers basis.

Most of those advertisers signed up to advertise on GAC year round, but some are advertising only in the holiday-heavy fourth quarter.

“We anticipate we’re always going to see that. Our highest ratings of the year are in the fourth quarter, so we do try to push as many dollars into the fourth quarter as possible,” Roberts said. “It's probably about 30% or so [of revenue] falling in the fourth quarter.”

At least one advertiser is close to making a product integration deal, but GAC didn’t sell “presented by” packages for individual movies or the season this year. Those deals will be available next year to help GAC push up prices, Abbott noted.

Being small and new has made it easier for Great American Family to navigate a weaker scatter market because, at this point, it doesn't take too many ad dollars to meet its revenue goals.

Roberts expects Thanksgiving/Black Friday weekend programming to be attractive to advertisers looking to engage shoppers, with movies starring Candace Cameron Bure, Danica McKellar and Gladys Knight.

Just as many of the stars of GAC’s new movies are familiar to Hallmark movie fans, most of the new GAC advertisers were clients Abbott and Roberts knew from their time at Hallmark, Abbott doubted Hallmark would be feeling the pinch because of GAC poaching this year. “Nobody’s holding a benefit on their behalf. I think they’re doing quite well for themselves” Abbott said. “We wish them success.”

Great American Family plans to run Christmas movies 24 hours a day, seven days a week from October 21 through the end of the year under its Great American Christmas umbrella. That includes 18 new titles, a 50% increase from last year, when the channel was known as GAC Family.

This season’s first film, Destined at Christmas, set a ratings record for the network with 540,000 viewers for its premiere, accordion to Nielsen. iSpot.TV estimates that the movie generated 60.5 million TV ad impressions over all viewing and $323,000 in ad spending from brands including Revlon, Physicians Mutual, NetCredit, Marathon Petroleum and Home Depot.

GAC’s October 29 film Catering Christmas generated 36 million ad impressions and $214,000 in spending, according to iSpot.

Royal Christmas on Ice, the November 5 film, had 28.4 million impressions and $171,000 in ad spending and Love at the Christmas Contest generated 20.5 million ad impressions and revenue of $147,000.

Christmas wasn’t as jolly last year for GAC. Abbott closed the deal to acquire Great American Country and Ride TV in July of 2021. At that point the previous owner of GAC, Discovery, had conducted upfront sales.

So when Abbott decided to load up Great American Family (then known as GAC Family) with original holiday movies, most of the network inventory was already committed and most advertisers had already allocated their spending.

Rushing out that first batch of holiday programming last season was a decision Abbott second guessed.

‘“We learned that you don’t just put Christmas trees on the air and get ratings. Last year we tried to do that,” Abbott said. And while he questioned the strategy for a while, now he thinks it was the right thing to do.

“We’ve got a library that has quality movies in it with talent that viewers know and love. And that is making all the difference in terms of this year’s schedule,” Abbott said.

“Doing what we did last year was necessary so that we could get to this point where we can be Christmas 24/7. The viewers who have found us for the first time this year, those movies are new to them,” added Roberts. I think we’re seeing a lot of that right now in the ratings.”

Having established the quality of the movies it would air also put Great American Family in a stronger position with advertisers. Going into this year we had a much bigger base of advertisers and volume of dollars, Roberts said.

Still since Abbott left Hallmark, the Christmas movie category has gotten a lot more crowded with broadcast networks, cable channels and streaming services all getting into the holiday spirit.

“I think it's gotten more challenging. You have to be that much more creative and you know, that much more focused on associating their message with your environment and that much more aggressive,” Abbott said.

"It’s so crowded out there, it takes a long time to build a brand and build awareness," he said. "Even in the ad community, we have really strong relationships but there’s a lot of choices out there."

For advertisers that bought Great American Family beyond the fourth quarter, the network will be airing 20 original romantic comedy movies that will air over the course of the year.

Starting up original series is probably still a few years down the road, Abbott said.

GAC launched its Great American Community app in September, offering 15 original short-form series.

Abbott said the app has gotten a lot of people to sign up, but didn’t share specific numbers. “It’s a heavy lift, frankly. We’re creating content at a very feverish pace with five videos dropping a day.

He said that as expected, people are gravitating toward videos about cooking, decorating and featuring talent from the network. Others haven’t drawn as much viewership.

But the app is generating a lot of data about the Great American Living audience and some of the short-form videos could serve as backdoor pilots for that channel.

“It's kind of our season one, and we’re going to take those learnings as we move into season 2 and apply them, especially from an experience point of view and what community stands for,” he said. “If nothing else, it’s a terrific brand extension.” ■

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.