With Ratings Soaring, the Hallmark Channel Opts for Celebration Over a Hard Sell at Its Upfront

While looking to expand its brand partnerships

Hallmark Channel's highest-rated movie last year, Journey Back to Christmas, drew 4.8 million total viewers.
Crown Media

With linear ratings falling for much of the industry, some upfront events this year have become an exercise in frantic spinning, as nervous executives try to assure the buyers in attendance that their brand is in great shape, despite the softening numbers.

But that won’t be the case at tonight’s Crown Media Family Networks upfront event, which will be a celebration of the soaring ratings at the company’s two networks, Hallmark Channel and Hallmark Movies & Mysteries.

“As you look across the cable landscape, there are very few having the type of growth that both of our channels have seen,” said Ed Georger, evp, advertising series and digital media. “So our upfront positioning is to emphasize the power of the Hallmark brand, the family-friendly environment that we offer and really bring our clients together in celebration of the success that we’ve had together.”

In its upfront talks, the company will be looking to expand its brand partnerships outside of traditional 30-second ads.

In the fourth quarter of 2016, Hallmark Channel was the highest-rated cable network in total day among women 25 to 54. This broadcast year to date, both networks are up double digits year over year in women 25-54 (a 15 percent jump for Hallmark; 35 percent for Movies and Mysteries) and women 18-49 (an 18 percent increase for Hallmark; 43 percent for Movies & Mysteries).

“We’re having a great year. Scatter remains strong for us, and we’ve seen consistent, double-digit growth in our business for a few years now,” said Georger.

So Georger won’t be making any sales pitches to the buyers at New York’s Rainbow Room for tonight’s event; his team will save those talks for their meetings with individual agencies. Instead, there will be a performance from Jewel, who is starring in and executive producing a real estate mystery franchise of films for Movies & Mysteries, based on Kate Carlisle’s Fixer-Upper Mystery books. The first entry, Framed for Murder: A Fixer Upper Mystery, aired in January.

During those agency meetings, Crown Media will stick to the same message that it has employed for the past few years: its networks are built on major events—starting with its annual Countdown to Christmas but stretching through the year (including holidays, June weddings, summer nights)—that align not only with the Hallmark brand but a marketer’s season-specific campaign. “What we’re excited about is that’s a long-term strategy and one that we can build on every year,” said Georger.

"As you look across the cable landscape, there are very few having the type of growth that both of our channels have seen."
-Ed Georger, evp, advertising series and digital media, Crown Family Media Networks

In its upfront talks, the company will be looking to expand its brand partnerships outside of traditional 30-second ads, both in its series and the 90-plus original movies that it produces each year for the two networks (last year’s most-watched movie, Journey Back to Christmas, drew 4.8 million total viewers).

Brands are also regularly flocking to Hallmark Channel’s morning talk show, Home and Family, which “is designed specifically to open opportunities for brands to participate,” said Georger, with integration-friendly segments on cooking, decorating, gardening and home improvement. “It makes sense that brands become parts of solutions to situations that families have in their home every day.”

Counter to much of this year’s upfront negotiations, the Crown Media pitch will be light on non-Nielsen audience data. While “our audience does have disposable income and does spend money in categories that sometimes are not top of mind,” Georger notes that because Hallmark’s ratings are up, there isn’t as much urgency to spin. “I think when your ratings, from that measurement point of view, are down dramatically, which is what they are in a lot of places, you look for other ways to bring value.”

That also allows the company to focus its message on the basics, like constantly delivering on its schedules to advertisers. “There’s not a lot of cable networks who have an opportunity to talk about how successful they’ve been,” said Georger. “When you buy into both these channels, they’ve been delivering on their promises. That’s part of our celebration story.”