Hallmark’s Christmas Programming Is the Gift That Keeps On Giving, at Least in Terms of Ad Revenue

Countdown fuels the network's most-watched week ever

Hallmark marketing chief Susanne McAvoy (center, with network talent Dermot Mulroney and Ashley Williams) created a pop-up Museum of Christmas last month.
Hallmark Channel

There are few constants in the chaotic TV industry, but here’s one: If it’s the Christmas season, then Hallmark Channel is probably breaking some ratings records.

That’s true again this year, as Countdown to Christmas, Hallmark Channel’s annual two-month collection of round-the-clock Christmas-themed programming, helped it become the most-watched cable network last month in total day among 18- to 49-year-old and 25- to 54-year-old women.

Its five-night Thanksgiving event, which is always the highest-rated portion of the season, drove the most-watched week in network history across all key demos, culminating in Sunday, Nov. 26, its most-watched day ever among households, all 18- to 49-year-olds and 25- to 54-year-olds, and 25- to 54-year-old women. That night’s original movie, Switched for Christmas, drew 5.2 million total viewers, making it the network’s highest-rated holiday movie this year.

Overall, this year’s Countdown to Christmas is up 4 percent year over year in the 18-49 and 25-54 demos as well as total viewers and households.

“We’ve become an exception to the market in terms of our ability to stay true to our brand, build on the success that we’ve had, and the advertisers have responded to it,” said Ed Georger, executive vice president of ad sales & digital media, Crown Media Family Networks. “There’s some value to consistency and reliability, especially in this day and age. Both viewers and advertisers appreciate the fact that they can count on us delivering every year.”

Countdown to Christmas and the holiday event from sister network Hallmark Movies and Mysteries, The Most Wonderful Movies of Christmas, represents one-third of Hallmark Channel’s annual ad revenue, according to the company. This year, the network looks to bring in an estimated $390 million in ad revenue, according to S&P Global Market Intelligence’s Kagan, while Hallmark Movies and Mysteries will take in an estimated $146 million in ad revenue.

This holiday season, Georger saw increased interest from the automotive, theatrical and telecommunications categories. Target was one of the network’s big sponsors for its Five Days of Thanksgiving event, and Hallmark expanded its partnership with Balsam Hill Christmas trees, which includes integrations in the network’s movies and Home & Family morning talk show, as well as traditional ads.

The holiday campaigns on both networks started on Oct. 27 and will run through New Year’s Day. (There are 33 new original movies this year: 21 on Hallmark Channel and 12 on Hallmark Movies & Mysteries.) While audiences are eager to get a jump on holiday viewing, the pre-Halloween kickoff also accommodates marketers, who “are running their holiday creative earlier and earlier,” said Georger. “So that’s a very strong opportunity for our marketing partners to be part of the holiday season early on. And the ratings are equally as strong in November as they are in December.”

‘We want to be where Christmas is’

Hallmark’s ratings increases this season have been fueled in part by this year’s ambitious marketing campaign, which included a Museum of Christmas pop-up installation in New York last month. Inspired by the Museum of Ice Cream, it drew approximately 10,000 visitors over five days and featured installations like peppermint tire swings, a snowball pit, a life-size snow globe and an infinity Christmas lights room.

Hallmark also is sponsoring Lord & Taylor’s holiday window display at the company’s flagship store in New York, as well as Macy’s Santaland experience at its flagship store in New York’s Herald Square. Other holiday sponsorships include a Snow Day escape on Dec. 9 at all nine national Six Flags theme parks, Christmas experiences at four Gaylord resorts across the country and holiday music tours from Mariah Carey, Martina McBride, Jewel and Trans-Siberian Orchestra.

“We want to be where Christmas is as much as we can physically do in terms of an organization, and there’s a lot of Christmas out there,” said Susanne McAvoy, evp of marketing, creative and communications for Crown Media Family Networks. “We’re not having to go knock on doors like we once did when this thing started.”

Still to come is Hallmark Channel’s first-ever window display within Hallmark’s 400 corporate stories. Beginning on Dec. 13, the display will count down the 12 days to Christmas, with 12 oversized hanging ornaments representing some of the network’s premieres. Hallmark Channel will turn footage of the signage into 12 on-air vignettes of 10 seconds each, airing each of the 12 days leading up to Christmas and featuring a Gold Crown fun fact.

The Hallmark partnership was finally made possible after Hallmark purchased the rest of Crown Media Holdings in spring 2016. “We can do these things a lot easier than when we were a separate company from them,” McAvoy said. “It’s something that we as an organization have wanted to do for years: have a bigger presence in Gold Crown and have a Countdown to Christmas ornament, which I don’t think is in the too distant future.”

While each year’s Countdown to Christmas campaign needs to be better than the previous one—“you can’t rest on your laurels and do the same thing every year,” McAvoy said—there are a few essential elements that are constants.

“Music is obviously a big part of that,” said McAvoy, noting that she is using Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas (is You)” for a third year. “It’s the most popular Christmas song of our generation, so that’s a must,” she said. “Also, messaging about we’re part of your lives, and we want to celebrate Christmas with you. We’re the leader in this area, and we’re excited to be back with this tradition.”

Collectively, McAvoy’s campaign “brings awareness to what sometimes is forgotten, that a channel outside of a larger media company can rate No. 1,” said Georger, who has been working to expand his Countdown to Christmas advertising partnerships year-round.

Between Hallmark events like Valentine’s Day and June weddings, “we really want to create is these opportunities throughout the year, which coincide very often with marketers’ calendars. That’s our strategy that works both for the viewer and the marketer,” said Georger.

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