Hallmark Channel Unveils 'Holiday Countdown' Program

The countdown to a new year-round programming and marketing strategy has begun at Hallmark Channel.

Having already enacted these tactics at various points over the years, to particularly big effect around Christmas, the family-friendly network has formalized the "Hallmark Channel Holiday Countdown." The cross-platform push begins with "Countdown to Halloween" and continues with "Countdown to Thanksgiving," before culminating with a five-week long programming and marketing blitz of "Countdown to Christmas."

Additionally, Hallmark plans to bring attendant themed programming, whether original or acquired movies, specials and themed series, plus advertising packages, digital content and a presence in 3,200 Hallmark Gold Crown Stores to bear for countdowns saluting Valentine's Day, Memorial Day, Mother's Day, Father's Day and Fourth of July.

A combination of things keyed the network's expanded commitment to special events.

"Our viewers want this kind of programming," said Susanne Smith McAvoy, senior vice president marketing at Crown Media Holdings, parent of Hallmark Channel and Hallmark Movie Channel. "And it drives our parent company's messaging year-round of celebrating special moments. The sense of celebration is very synergistic to what they do."

The countdown campaigns will also include microsites located at www.hallmarkchannel.com, sponsored customizable vignettes and on-air promos, and affiliate taggables that will remind viewers about the number of days remaining before each holiday.

For Halloween, Hallmark won't be serving up entries from the Nightmare on Elm Street, Scream or Frankenstein franchises..

"The programming will be on-brand," said McAvoy of the Halloween programming schedule, running from Oct. 26 through Nov. 11

That means movies like The Good Witch, The Good Witch's Garden, My Favorite Martian and Bailey's Mistake, and the cable premiere of Halloween on Ice, a special featuring Nancy Kerrigan and Elvis Stojko on Oct. 30 at 8 p.m. There will also be themed and costumed episodes of Golden Girls, I Love Lucy, Cheers and Murder She Wrote.

On the spooky day itself, Jack Hanna installments will center on such creepy creatures as spiders and bats. There's also an encore airing of the ice skating special, while the rest of the day will showcase ghost/witch-themed movies The day ends with Golden Girls costume episodes.

For its Countdown to Christmas, Hallmark Channel also will partner with Hallmark Gold Crown stores to produce a national sweepstakes that will run Nov. 1 through Dec. 24., with participating outlets distributing customer appreciation packs, featuring tune-in information, custom affiliate messaging, more than $50 in savings on products and sweepstakes information. The "Holiday Homecoming Sweepstakes" will award four grand prizes, featuring $25,000 cash and a hosted, holiday homecoming party for up to 20 of the winners' family members. This year, the sweepstakes will be sponsored nationally by Ocean Spray and will tie into more than 470 systems, reaching more than 40 million subscribers.

Rewrapped on Nov. 21, the consumer Web site will feature relevant holiday content and promotional information. The attendant on-air and online spots, created by Hallmark Channel's Creative Services team, will run throughout the holiday period.

All of these efforts will support the network's four original holiday movies that will premiere on Saturday nights at 9 p.m., as well as other themed fare that will run from noon to midnight, beginning on the Friday after Thanksgiving.
The original move lineup is as follows:

*The National Tree, Nov. 28, starring Andrew McCarthy, Kari Matchett and Evan Wlliams;

*Debbie Macomber's "Mrs. Miracle, Dec. 5, starring James Van Der Beek and Doris Roberts;

*Christmas in Canaan, Dec. 12, starring Billy Ray Cyrus and Jaishon Fisher; and

*The Three Gifts, Dec. 19, starring Dean Cain, Jean Louisa Kelly, Mimi Kennedy and Reginald VelJohnson.
McAvoy said that the ratings and cross-platform success Hallmark Channel has enjoyed with its Christmas fare over the years helped fuel the year-round countdown undertaking.

It was a natural progression, with the success we've had at this time of year," she said. "We're the only network that can bring these different types of programming to viewers year-round."