Hallmark Expands Brand With New Offerings

WHY THIS MATTERS: Every network is curious about grabbing new consumers with an SVOD product.

It was six months ago that Crown Media took significant steps to diversify its Hallmark brand. First, there was the launch of the Hallmark Drama channel, and days later, the streaming platform Hallmark Movies Now had its premiere.

Those ventures, along with other Crown initiatives, have now had a chance to take root. Hallmark Drama is available in 10 million households, and Bill Abbott, president and CEO of Crown Media Holdings Inc. and Crown Media Family Networks, said Hallmark brass is shooting for 70 million to 90 million. (Hallmark Movies & Mysteries is in 70 million households, he said. Hallmark Channel hits around 89 million homes.)

“A number of conversations are ongoing with distributors,” Abbott said. “These deals take a while to evolve.”

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The new network’s content is primarily movies, with a handful of family-friendly TV series, such as Little House on the Prairie, 7th Heaven and Touched by an Angel there, too. Hallmark describes Drama’s offerings as a “wholly distinct lineup from Hallmark Channel and Hallmark Movies & Mysteries.”

“We know this content resonates so well with viewers,” Abbott noted. “We’re really excited about the traction it has gotten.”

The streaming service Hallmark Movies Now launched in October as well. For $5.99 a month, or $59.99 a year, users get what Abbott calls “unduplicated” content on-demand and on the go. Abbott won’t share subscriber numbers, but he said the platform is off to a robust start.

Season three of hit drama Chesapeake Shores, a multi-generational family drama about a high-powered career woman adjusting to life back in her hometown of Chesapeake Shores, starts on Hallmark Channel in the summer. Seasons one and two will be available on Hallmark Movies Now. “We think that will be a big driver for the service,” Abbott said.

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Hallmark Drama and Hallmark Movies Now are just a few initiatives going on within Crown Media. Abbott, who was inducted into the B&C Hall of Fame in October, said Crown is focused on its international markets. “The brand resonates in many countries around the world,” he said.

Crown Media also has a new publishing division, Hallmark Publishing, while hit scripted series When Calls the Heart recently concluded its fifth season, with an average of 2.2 million viewers.

Hallmark also took a big swing with The Beach House, a Hallmark Hall of Fame original film that premiered Saturday, April 28. Andie MacDowell, Minka Kelly and Chad Michael Murray made up the cast. Michelle Vicary, executive VP, programming & publicity, Crown Media Family Networks, said The Beach House “is about finding serenity by accepting there are no perfect days, but a well-lived life is made up of perfect moments strung together with love.”

Abbott said “continuing to improve our quality” remains a major focus for the expanded suite of Hallmark channels, in terms of storytelling, casting, writing and production values.

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Christine Becker, associate professor in the department of film, television and theatre at Notre Dame University, called Hallmark a rarity in that it is largely defined by its seasonal programming, and that it is independent in an age of corporations with giant channel portfolios.

“I presume they’re hoping to build that into year-round success with both a linear channel and an SVOD service,” she said. “I do wonder how transferrable that is outside of the defined programming season, though. It’s become a ritual for viewers in November and December to seek out Hallmark movies to watch, but will that impulse exist in April or in September?”

Striving for Youth

Abbott is keen to see the average age of Hallmark viewers go down, which the SVOD product should help with. Becker said she sees some challenges with Hallmark’s efforts to get younger. “Hallmark’s conservatism and lack of diversity could be an issue there,” she said. “I have younger friends who watch the Christmas movies from an ironic or campy perspective due to their saccharine nature and overwhelming whiteness, so that might be questionable to sustain across the year.”

Abbott has witnessed many cable networks diversify their offerings with new channels and streaming platforms. He said duplicating too much content from one platform to the other isn’t good for the industry. “It hurts the ecosystem and drives consumers to SVOD,” he said. “We have a terrific value proposition and we need strong competition.”

Michael Malone

Michael Malone, senior content producer at B+C/Multichannel News, covers network programming, including entertainment, news and sports on broadcast, cable and streaming; and local broadcast television. He hosts the podcasts Busted Pilot, about what’s new in television, and Series Business, a chat with the creator of a new program, and writes the column “The Watchman.” He joined B+C in 2005. His journalism has also appeared in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Playboy and New York magazine.