Crown Media Family Networks is once again spreading holiday tidings — and strong ratings cheer — with its annual lineup of holiday movies. Crown Media‘s Hallmark Channel, which launched its schedule of 30 new original holiday movie premieres in October, finished the month as the most watched cable network among female viewers and as a top five-rated cable network in primetime, bolstered by its original holiday movies.
Leading the network’s programming charge is recently named Crown Media Family Networks executive VP of programming Lisa Hamilton Daly, who is overseeing original programming for Hallmark Channel, Hallmark Movies & Mysteries, and streaming service Hallmark Movies Now.
Daly, a former Netflix and Lifetime programming executive, recently spoke to Multichannel News to discuss her programming vision for the Crown Media services. She also opines on the competition within the holiday programming genre as well as on potential future programming offerings from the network. An edited version of the interview appears below.
Picture This: Did you have to go through a major transition moving from the streaming and studio production side to focusing on family-targeted programming for cable networks?
Lisa Hamilton Daly: I had worked at Netflix and I also worked at Lifetime … I wasn’t exactly working on super family programming, but it was female-focused programming, which is very much in the Hallmark genre. The only thing different that you have to be aware of is creating content that pauses for ads. I’m really working in the same world of female-focused, very emotion-driven content, so it's not a big stretch.
PT: How would you define the Hallmark brand with regards to its original programming offerings?
LHD: I think that Hallmark is invested in high-quality, emotionally-driven programming. That's why I really like it, as well as people who are looking for positivity and a bit of an escape from everyday life. I think it's very female-focused for the most part — I know there are a lot of male fans — but it‘s a world where women can come in and see their happy ending and have a little bit of an escape and aspirational fun. I think that‘s something that is really important … there are not a lot of outlets for that in the marketplace. That’s what I think makes Hallmark so unique.
PT: Hallmark’s Countdown to Christmas offering has drawn numerous competitors over the years, so how does the network continue to differentiate itself from others in the marketplace?
LHD: That’s a really interesting question. I think that a lot of people who are watching holiday movies on other channels think they’re watching Hallmark movies. Hallmark is so identified with Christmas that they dominate the brand of holiday. I think people try things to tinker with the formula, but Hallmark stays within the formula and we find so many fresh ways to express it. We’ve also expanded our brand experience to include so many other things including food, wine, games and music that live that Hallmark lifestyle. We have Hallmark [Club Wyndham] hotel suites this year — I have a friend who told me she’s already booked one in Tennessee. People just want to go live that entire Hallmark life and feel like they‘re walking into one of those movies. I think more than any of our competitors, who by the way do wonderful work themselves, Hallmark really owns the brand in a way that other people want to, but just don’t yet.
PT: Having said that, are you concerned that there may be too much holiday-themed content in the marketplace?
LHD: It’s certainly something to think about, but I think as long as we still feel like we’re telling fun, fresh stories, we’ll continue to be successful. We’re looking to tell stories just beyond romantic love stories, so there are a lot of areas to mine to freshen up the holiday content.
PT: Hallmark is perennially a top 10-rated cable network in primetime throughout the year. What keeps the network so popular with viewers beyond its signature holiday movie fare?
LHD: Hallmark has a really unique brand proposition. I think people know what they’re going to get when they turn to the channel. They know that they’re going to find a world where there's a bit of an order, and things work out for people. I think in a world of chaos and uncertainty, that sense of beauty and order that exists in a Hallmark movie really feels good to them. People fall in love, families come together and when those things happen it really feels good to people.
PT: What should we look for in terms of new programming from Hallmark?
LHD: I just got here, but we’ve identified a couple of things that we want to do. I think we're looking for some ways to spice up Christmas — maybe some different formats. I don‘t want to say too much yet, but I think we‘re flirting with some ideas to just mix it up a little. We‘re looking to find some fresh content, maybe in the series world. We have seasonal stunts year round, and we‘re starting to map out all of those as well. We're definitely firing on all cylinders right now.
PT: How many original scripted series will Hallmark look to offer in 2022?
LHD: I think we have about three series a year roughly. Good Witch just finished, so we'll be looking for a series to replace it. We have a couple other series that are ongoing. We also may be making some series for our SVOD streaming service, Hallmark Movies Now, which should be really fun.
PT: Are there any other genres that you’d like to explore?
LHD: I think unscripted would be a really interesting place to explore. We haven‘t made any decisions around that yet, but I think it‘d be a great brand extension. I love thinking about what Hallmark could look like as a lifestyle brand. I think we‘re also thinking about what comedy would look like on Hallmark. I think we‘re really open and thinking forward about what could really help engage our audiences further.
PT: From your perspective, what does Hallmark Channel’s programming strategy look like in 2022?
LHD: My desire is to tell a really wide range of stories inside the Hallmark brand. I think that Hallmark is for everybody, and I really want to be sure that we're telling everyone's stories and really bringing them into the family
PT: Does that include a more diverse lineup of content?
LHD: Yes. My biggest goal is to be more inclusive and to really explore what that means for so many different kinds of people.
PT: Where does streaming fit into Hallmark’s overall content distribution strategy?
LHD: I think that we‘re certainly looking around at the success of streaming and thinking about what that could look like for us and thinking about shows that could be on there. We have a robust library of our content already, so we’re thinking of how to put more of our series on there so people can catch up, or to have our Christmas stuff available year round, and overall thinking about what would be fun to be on there that‘s new. I certainly think about that all the time: Is it more rom-coms? Is it more series? I think it can only get better.
R. Thomas Umstead serves as senior content producer, programming for Multichannel News, Broadcasting + Cable and Next TV. During his more than 30-year career as a print and online journalist, Umstead has written articles on a variety of subjects ranging from TV technology, marketing and sports production to content distribution and development. He has provided expert commentary on television issues and trends for such TV, print, radio and streaming outlets as Fox News, CNBC, the Today show, USA Today, The New York Times and National Public Radio. Umstead has also filmed, produced and edited more than 100 original video interviews, profiles and news reports featuring key cable television executives as well as entertainers and celebrity personalities.
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