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Hallmark Drama Channel Launches Into Headwinds for Linear Networks

Even as pay TV operators mull removing channels from the traditional cable bundle, Crown Media Networks hopes Sunday’s (Oct. 1) launch of new linear channel Hallmark Drama shows there’s still life in the old bundle.

Hallmark Drama, like its sister networks Hallmark Channel and Hallmark Movies & Mysteries, will offer a mix of acquired content and Hallmark-themed originals aimed at fans of the brand, according to Crown Media CEO Bill Abbott.

Related: Why Hallmark Is Betting It Can Create a New Cable Network

Abbott said Hallmark Drama will not feature any programming currently airing on Hallmark or Hallmark Movies & Mysteries, drawing instead on Crown Media’s library of original movies and series, including decades of “Hallmark Hall of Fame” films.

Distribution deals with several undisclosed pay TV providers will put Hallmark Drama in 5 million households at launch, the company said. Sister network Hallmark Movies & Mysteries deals do not include a license fee, according to industry sources, though Abbott and Crown officials would not discuss carriage terms, citing confidentiality.

“We still have quite a few deals that we have to complete and we will have significant distribution by first quarter 2018,” Abbott said.

Hallmark Drama follows another recent, sizable linear channel launch: NBCUniversal’s July debut of the Olympic Channel. Overall, though, channel launches run against the trend of distributors dropping networks where possible in an effort to offer cheaper, slimmed-down cable packages to consumers.

Abbott said there’s still appeal in the traditional cable bundle and is pitching Hallmark Drama as adding value to distributor packages.

“It’s our view that the ecosystem is still very strong and the big package of multiple cable networks is still a value and provides a great television option,” he said. “The skinny bundle is great if you’re maybe a single person or not that big a fan of TV, but if you’re in a household with more than one person and those people have a variety of interests, the skinny bundle doesn’t do it.”

Hallmark Channel has enjoyed strong ratings momentum, finishing among the top 15 cable networks in primetime during the third quarter of 2017, averaging 884,000 viewers, according to Nielsen. That was more than the 813,000 viewers posted during the second quarter, Nielsen said.

Hallmark will also step into the OTT arena Oct. 10 with the debut of the Hallmark Movies Now subscription streaming service. The offering, which will cost $5.99 a month or $59.99 a year, will also feature unduplicated content.

“For the passionate Hallmark fan who is engaged toward our content in a big way, we’re offering the service as an add-on that really punches up their engagement with Hallmark and [lets them] experience content they won’t see on the other three Hallmark services,” he said.