Hallmark Offers Advertisers Calm Amid Industry Turbulence

Hallmark Channel loves celebrating holidays. But when a March snowstorm turned New York into a winter wonderland, it wiped out parent company Crown Media Family Networks’ upfront event.

Undaunted, Crown Media CEO Bill Abbott and head of ad sales Ed Georger donned Santa Claus and reindeer outfits in snowy Central Park and — joined by network headliners Candace Cameron Bure and Danica McKellar, in town for the upfront — created an event on Facebook Live.

They announced the renewal of some original series, a new pet adoption initiative and an expanded lineup of 90 movies, with 54 on Hallmark Channel and 36 on Hallmark Movies and Mysteries.

The new Hallmark Drama channel is in nearly 10 million homes but won’t seek upfront ads until it has a larger national footprint.

Ratings, Ad Sales on Rise

The plucky programmer — owned by Hallmark Cards — is in a unique place in the cable industry with increasing ratings and strong ad-revenue growth.

For several years, when it was a public company, Crown racked up double-digit ad revenue gains. Now, as a private company, official revenue figures for Hallmark and Hallmark Movies & Mysteries are unavailable.

Although unable to provide specifics, Georger said the pace of Hallmark’s ad revenue growth has continued.

That means Hallmark Channel can afford to largely buck the trend of using data to find specialized audiences in order to goose ad prices and volume.

“The data game we like is that when you’re looking for women 25 to 54 or women 18 to 49, we’re a top five cable network, and in the fourth quarter we’re No. 1,” Georger said.

“So yes, we have secondary data and advertisers are interested in talking to us about looking at a different audience,” he added. “We feel very confident in being able to deliver on that. But we start first and foremost with data that is the currency and when you’re No. 1, you feel pretty strong about the Nielsen demographics.”

Also a part of the Hallmark appeal is the squeaky-clean nature of its content and the holiday themes that allow advertisers to connect with viewers through seasonal promotions.

“We stand tall and proud on our Nielsen ratings, our brand safety and our relevant content and we think when we deliver those three things there’s value and advertisers are happy to recognize that.”

One industry trend that Hallmark is taking part in is reducing ad loads in the premiere telecasts of its original shows.

“We’ve cut the commercial load by nearly 50% and we’re finding that to be an effective way to build an audience,” Georger said. “We may look to do more of that with some of our specials, and perhaps some of our pet programming, but not to the extent of the broader cuts others have announced.”

Advertisers like the lower ad loads, Georger said, “in part because of the limited commercials, also in part because of the strong ratings and the strong performance, our original scripted series are a desired part of our schedule for advertisers.”

No Forecast of Overall Upfront

Overall, Georger is less sure about how strong the upfront will be than how well Crown Media will perform.

“I can speak more confidently about our position in that the momentum of ratings and growth and content leads me to feel like the upfront’s going to be strong for us,” he said.

“The challenge that the industry has is that there are a lot of other networks, both broadcast and cable, that are seeing themselves in a downward spiraling ratings situation that is going to limit availability in the market,” Georger added. “But that’s not happening here. We’re feeling pretty confident. We still feel that we are undervalued and that’s going to be a big part of our conversation as you look at what’s a fair price for the No. 1 cable network in the fourth quarter.”

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.