Hallmark Channels See Big Gains in Upfront Sales

Media buyers had more than greetings for the Hallmark channels. They arrived at upfront negotiations with more ad dollars than ever before, even at price increases at the high end of the market.

Crown Media Family Networks, which runs Hallmark Channel and Hallmark Movies and Mysteries and is now wholly owned by Hallmark Cards, is close to putting the stamp on its upfront.

Ed Georger, executive VP of advertising sales & digital media, says he sees volume up in the double-digit range, with volume up more than 50% at Hallmark Movies and Mysteries. He said prices on a cost-per-thousand viewers (CPM) basis was also at the high end for cable networks, in the double-digit price range.

Ad prices for the Hallmark channels had been what media people call efficient, or somewhat less expensive than other networks. After a couple of years of rising ratings and successful original scripted programming, Crown Media's goal in this upfront was to boost prices closer to what its competitors charge.

Crown Media's efforts included an upfront dinner in March where stars of the network's shows mingled with clients. The message was, in part, thanks for your support. But the company also wanted to be rewarded for its positive ratings performance, which means that when an advertiser bought a schedule, it reached the number of viewers promised without waiting for make-good commercials to make up for the shortfall. "We're glad that we're delivering for our advertisers, Georger said.

Georger said advertisers are comfortable with Hallmark's family-friendly programming and want to be a part of its holiday-themed events, which have branched off from Christmas season to take in Valentine's Day, Mother's Day, June weddings, summer nights and a fall festival. "Our position heading into the upfront seemingly made a lot of sense for advertisers and agencies and they came to the table with support for both channels," he said.

"Our upfront process started pretty early. I didn't see that sort of trickle down," according to Georger. "The initial budgets that were registered to us were very, very healthy right out of the gate."

Hallmark's ad revenues have been growing fast over the past two years and Georger was glad to see rates climb as well. "From a CPM point of view, we're going to be finishing our upfronts in double digits. I think that's a milestone that very few cable networks are going to reach. This market has been strong but at the end of the day I think the number of networks that fall into that area are few and far between," he said. The number of cable network growing their ratings is similarly small.

To get those rates, Crown didn't sacrifice volume, though it did leave some dollars on the table in order to have inventory for the scatter market. "It's often hard to secure both price and share, but the volume in this year's upfront was especially strong," he said, particularly at Hallmark Movies and Mysteries, which seems to be getting traction on its own.

Jon Lafayette

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.