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LOWDOWN ON THE UPFRONT: Hallmark, Starcom Spring Upfront

Hallmark Channel and Starcom have struck the first agreement of the 2008-09 upfront selling season, an eight-figure deal cutting across a number of the media buying agency’s clients.

The pact, estimated at between $10 million and $15 million, encompasses not only Crown Media’s flagship Hallmark Channel, but Hallmark Movie Channel and Hallmark Movie Channel HD, according to sources familiar with the negotiations.

Neither party would discuss the pact.

However, Hallmark’s appeal extends to its position as a top 10 network in viewers and the family-friendly environment within its original telefilms, as well as its acquired theatricals and series offerings. The programmer also has strong marks, relative to length of viewer tune-in and  C3 ratings -- average commercial ratings, plus three days of digital video recorder playback.  The latter is now the benchmark for most deals on Madison Avenue.

Indeed from Oct. 1, 2007 through April 27, Hallmark Channel, according to Nielsen Media Research data, had a 95.2% commercial retention ratio (live, plus 3-day commercial ratings, compared to live plus 3-day programming ratings) second only to Nick at Nite’s 95.3% among households during primetime.. Hallmark Channel ranked first in length of tune during primetime at 25.1 minutes.

In 2007, Hallmark rang up $205 million in ad sales. Crown Media president and CEO Henry Schleiff, during the network’s upfront dinner with the press in March, said he anticipated that ad sales would again grow 20% and near the $250 million mark.

Last week, Nickelodeon's Kids and Family Group inked a kids upfront deal with GroupM, reported to be valued at some $300 million. The buy is also said to include adult brands