Growing family affair
Emphasis on original programs with wide appeal
By Kevin Downey
has pretty much existed under the radar since launching four years ago.
But that is starting to change as the former faith-based
Odyssey channel has grown with little fanfare into a mid-tier cable
network with significant ratings growth that suggests it is approaching
top-tier status. It has already become a viable competitor to networks
like Lifetime that primarily target women with a slew of original movies.
And provided Hallmark fixes its biggest problem--having the
oldest viewers on cable television, outside some of the news
networks--media buyers say it also stands a good chance of landing on more
Like several other networks, Hallmark Channel is working to
lower its viewers’ median age by rolling out original movies that will
bring in new viewers.
David Kenin, the network’s executive vice president of
programming, says the age issue is being addressed and being discussed
with media buyers in preparation for the upcoming $6.6 billion upfront
“It’s important for us to down age the network, but not
quickly because that would be disastrous,” he says.
“We recognize that evolution is a basic part of our
business. That seems to be happening fairly effortlessly. But we know that
as we produce more original programming we’ll be seeking stars who will
attract a younger audience. And we often do casting with a younger star
and an older star in the same movie.”
Original movies are also largely behind dramatically improved
For instance, the network generated its largest weekly
audience earlier this month on the strength of Ed Asner in “Out of the
Woods,” a movie that attracted 3.4 million viewers, becoming Hallmark’s
second most watched original.
“Our growth in ratings has been meteoric in the last three years,
starting from a very low base,” says Kenin. He attributes that in part
to the media picking up on its programs.
“We’ve also had tremendous growth in our press coverage
because we’ve had something to talk about, which is the original movies
and because we went into a new genre with mysteries.”
The network's identity
Although Hallmark Channel has largely ditched the
religious programming of Odyssey, it sticks close to inoffensive movies
and miniseries that are meant to get families gathering around the TV set.
The network is owned by Crown Media, a division of Hallmark
Cards, so its programs have mostly revolved around the holidays. That is
starting to change as Hallmark Channel eases into programs like its “Mystery
Movie” series, which kicks off a second season this summer.
“The brand is the driver here; it’s the most important
aspect of the channel,” says Bill Abbot, executive vice president of
advertising sales at Hallmark Channel.
“The Hallmark Hall of Fame for 50-plus years has been a
talent-laden, award-winning showcase of movies on CBS. A lot of the
reputation of the channel stems from the Hallmark Hall of Fame brand.
Viewers know they will receive quality programming in an environment that
is not objectionable.”
The network's target audience
Hallmark Channel is trying to reach families and
specifically adults 25-54. But it has its work cut out for it in that
area. The median age of its viewers is 58 years old, which is about 10
years older than viewers watching Lifetime and similar networks.
“We have down aged three or four years over the past three
or four months,” says Abbot. “Certainly our goal is to become younger
but at the same time we don’t want to alienate what has become a large
core audience in an effort to become 18-34. We’re not going to go down
The network's ratings
Hallmark Channel is neither the fastest
growing network nor a top-10 rated network.
But it has serious momentum. Ranking in the top 30 in its
core 25-54 demographic in first quarter, the network’s primetime
audience was up 23 percent from a year earlier, to an average 284,000 viewers.
On a total-day basis, Hallmark Channel is doing even better.
Its 25-54 audience was up 53 percent, while its overall audience was up 45
“They’ve hit their stride,” says Shari Anne Brill, vice
president and director of programming at Carat. “Just like you’re
seeing networks like National Geographic and FX go through
evolutions, it’s almost like you need five years to get a network to
where you want it to be.”
The network's competitive set
Hallmark Channel essentially competes with
all general-interest networks that do well with older adults, particularly
But it has quietly joined a handful of networks like
Lifetime, Lifetime Movie Network, and, to a lesser degree, WE: Women’s
Entertainment, that target women with a lineup heavy on movies.
What distinguishes Hallmark from its competitors is its
strict adherence to programs that while not necessarily religious aren’t
going to turn off people who are.
What’s new for 2005/06
Hallmark Channel is rolling out more than
two dozen original movies and miniseries this year, including 14 this
These includes new episodes of “Mystery Movie,” which has John
Larroquette playing an attorney in “McBride,” “Life Goes On’s”
Kellie Martin as an amateur detective in “Mystery Woman,” and “Caroline
in the City’s” Lea Thompson as a mom caught up in solving crimes in
The network's upfront outlook
Hallmark’s message to media buyers is
that it has momentum.
Moreover, media buyers say the network has several unique
opportunities for advertisers that aren’t going unnoticed. While most
networks offer cross-platform deals where advertisers can advertise on a
network and related media properties, Hallmark has 4,200 greeting card
stores and a production company, Hallmark Entertainment, that can
easily work advertisers into its programs or the title of movies.
Hallmark’s Abbot says the network’s ad sales are booming
in the scatter market, when ad time not sold in the upfront is booked.
“Our first and second quarter scatter cost-per-thousands
are up 30-plus percent and our revenue is up 45 percent in both quarters.
Either we’re doing a great sales job or our network is starting to show
up on [audience] rankers and has broken through because we’ve finally
reached critical mass by delivering 70 million homes.”
The final prognosis
On a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being excellent: 3.
Hallmark Channel has a lot going for it and it is
certainly touting ratings growth, sizeable audiences for original movies
like its “Mystery Movie” series, high brand recognition, and a slew of
cross-platform advertising deals.
But the high median age of its viewers remains a problem for
advertisers targeting adults 18-49 and even those focusing on the 25-54
A LOOK AT
Launched in 2001
No. of subscribers
67.8 million homes
Median viewer age
57.9 years old
Average primetime viewers*
Average total-day viewers*
Avg. primetime 25-54 viewers*
Avg. total-day 25-54 viewers*
Adults 25-54; Women 25-54
Networks with movie-heavy
schedules such as Lifetime and Lifetime Movie Network
Nielsen Media Research, first quarter 2005
Click for past upfront
April 21, 2005
Kevin Downey is a staff writer for Media Life.