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Hallmark to Launch HD Channel

Crown Media Holdings plans to launch a HD simulcast of Hallmark Movie Channel next year, its first HDTV service, officials said Wednesday.

Henry Schleiff, president and CEO of Crown Media, owner of Hallmark Channel and Hallmark Movie Channel, unveiled plans for Hallmark Movie Channel HD during a second-quarter conference call.

“Early next year, we will be launching Hallmark Movie Channel in high def,” Schleiff said. “This will be a simulcast feed of the Hallmark Movie Channel and will include the presentation of many of our Hallmark Channel original movies in their pure high-def form.”

The new HDTV service will debut in the first quarter next year.

During the call, Crown Media chief financial officer Brian Stewart also disclosed that one of the company’s investors and a programming provider for Hallmark Channel, the National Interfaith Cable Coalition, has a put right that it can exercise later this month.

 The NICC and Crown have a programming partnership that is expiring the end of the year, and both sides are in talks to renew it, according to Stewart.

“In the event that those discussions do not result in a renewed agreement by Aug. 29 of 2007, the NICC has the right to compel Crown to purchase their roughly 4.4 million shares in Crown Media,” he told analysts. “Crown is considering various options to finance and place these shares in the market in the event that the programming agreement is not extended.” 

According to Crown Media’s 10Q, if NICC exercises its put right it would cost Crown about $28.8 million, based on the stock’s closing price on Aug. 3, which was $6.61.

During the call, Schleiff told analysts that Hallmark Channel has won a better channel slot with Time Warner Cable in New York City, and Aug. 31 will be moving down from channel 107 to 84, “a more desirable position.”

According to Schleiff. “The networks surrounding us will be more attractive, including such similar and popular networks as HBO, Turner Classic Movies and TV Land….We are delighted with this move.”