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Upfronts 2009: Hallmark -- Buy Us, We’re Predictable

Upfronts 2009: Complete Coverage from B&C 

Hallmark Channel rolled out its upfront announcements today along with a simple message that’s straight out of a greeting card: Buy us, because in a world of confusion, we’re predictable.

The Crown Media-owned network is under immense pressure to roll-back pricing in the scatter market, along with many other cable channels. So far, the network has remained firm and is seeing a first quarter ad sales picture that is slightly better than the fourth quarter which was down 4.5% to $60 million.

While the market appears to be showing signs of stabilizing, comparisons with the company’s first quarter 2008 will be tough for Hallmark. Advertising revenue was up 23% to $56.4 million for the quarter to March 31st. The network which launched in 2001 has been a relatively inexpensive buy for advertisers largely because it is so young. Advertising aside, the company has significantly improved its subscription fees from cable operators.

Speaking at the press upfront at a New York steak restaurant, the charismatic Crown Media president and CEO, Henry Schleiff, explained the channel’s positioning: “After a long day looking for work, people are looking for predictability. One day you have a job and the next day is gone. One day you have money, the next day it’s gone. One day you’re eating peanut butter, the next day you’re gone. There is no predictability in the world and that’s what we’re trying to provide.”

Hallmark movies typically have a feel-good factor and a happy ending. The network announced 35 original movies and laid claim to being television’s largest producer of original movies. Schleiff pointed out that so many rivals are moving away from the movie-model and that Hallmark was one of the few places that viewers know they can get an original movie at 9.00 p.m. on a Saturday night. He also challenged reporters to name some rival family-friendly venues on television today, pointing out that many had changed positioning.

Sister-service the Hallmark Movie Channel is also partnering with the NYU Tisch School of Arts to create a showcase of uplifting movies from both students and alumni of the school. Actor Alec Baldwin, an alumnus, has signed on to judge the entries.

Promoting the Hallmark Channel’s multiplatform opportunities, the company detailed a promotion last year by Nestle Toll House which reached consumers on-air, via 4,000 Hallmark Gold Crown Stores, Hallmark magazine and Wal-Mart. According to the findings, consumers exposed to the promotion accounted for $441 million spent on the brand, while Hallmark brand enthusiasts spent 10 percent more on Nestle Toll House cookies per year than those who weren’t exposed to the campaign.

Attempting to do away with the conventional wisdom that older shoppers aren’t as valued as younger ones because their brand preferences are set, Hallmark also released a Nielsen study showing boomer households outspent non-boomer households and are no more likely to be brand loyal.