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Marianne Paskowski



Hallmark Channel Takes Some Heat

January 19, 2007 3:54 PM

The folks at Crown Media Holdings’ Hallmark Channel are probably on the ceiling right now, given the Business Week piece that appears in the Jan. 29, ‘07 issue. BW said the Kansas City, Mo. based parent of Hallmark is “an object lesson in how not to run a media company.” But BW gets the irony of the channel’s core woes. It’s losing money even though it consistently rates as one of the top 10 basic cable ad-supported networks.

BW says that Crown Media’s new president and CEO Henry Schleiff was brought into the company to sell the network. That’s not entirely true. Schleiff’s mission, as he has told me, is to serve shareholders by increasing the channel’s value, even though the net had earlier been on the block for nine months with no successful bidders. That means that if Schleiff can increase shareholder value, it might not be for sale.

But here’s the real kicker: Former Crown Media Chairman Robert A. Halmi suggested that if a buyer emerges, the first thing the new owner would do is to dump the name Hallmark. So marketing mavens, weigh in: Is Hallmark a strong brand? I think, without question, yes.

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Comments (14)

Anonymous:

Without having any data to back this up, I do strongly feel that the Hallmark brand has to be among the most recognizable brands in the United States. It would seem absolutely insane for any entitiy that potentially purchases Hallmark to drop this name. This name denotes built in quality; I strongly feel that part of the REASON it's in the top 10 is due to name recognition. You have to assume that a viewer tuning in to Hallmark, expects quality, family, something special, and other positive attributes. It's simply a brand which has around it a postive aura. Sounds to me like the former Crown exec is trying to seriously downgrade the importance of what does seem to be a stellar brand.

Jeff Mulligan:

Marianne,

A brand name plays an important role connoting what the product stands for, particularly to customers who have few other clues about the product's strengths and weaknesses.

Keeping that in mind, I vote against keeping the Hallmark name for a network that, as I recall from what few times I've seen it, thrives on reruns long in tooth. (The last time I tuned into Hallmark, I had stumbled into a couple of episodes of "Walker, Texas Ranger" a real oldie but a goodie when a guy seeks accompaniment for a case of suds begging to be consumed at 2 a.m.)

I was surprised to learn during the endless commercial pods that I was watching Hallmark. Had I guessed which channel I'd chosen, I would have thought Spike. That's a brand name consistent with that network's macho content.

Mention Hallmark and, if I'm not put off by thoughts of insipid greeting cards, makes me expect to see reruns of Masterpiece Theater or Alistair Cooke programs. Longhair and highbrow stuff.

So if a new buyer chooses a new name, what should it be? "Suds" would resonate with me, but might some think it refers to soap operas?

Jeff

Marianne Paskowski:

Hi Annonymous:

One person suggested to me that Mr. Halmi, by making such negative comments about Hallmark, might actually be trying to lower the price and buy it himself. For me, I don't abide by conspiracy theories, just the facts.
Marianne

Marianne Paskowski:

Oh Jeff,
Suds is a horrible name for Hallmark. Makes me think of beer. Not the image Hallmark wants to portray. If there were a name change afoot, it needs to relate to the sentimental nature of Hallmark Cards. So what better name that Hallmark, I ask?

Personally, I never watch the channel because I am too young.

Marianne

David Eppenstein:

I tend to agree with Jeff on this issue. Who would miss the Hallmark Channel? There was a time when a Hallmark Presentation on TV was worth noting and was looked forward to. That's not the case anymore. Their programming is old and stale and, as Jeff points out, relies too much on schmaltzy reruns very long in the tooth. I keep expecting to see Lawrence Welk reruns following the "Walker, Texas Ranger" episodes. I genuinely believe that the Hallmark Channel has actually hurt their greeting card business by giving the public the attitude that this is an old and unimaginative company. If they decide to keep the channel a name change and some creative and innovative new programming are a must if they are to stay competitive.

Jim Forkan:

Hi Marianne,
I definitely agree with you that buying the Hallmark Channel, only to rebrand it would be the height of folly. Hallmark is a strong brand name, and one long synonymous with TV programming quality ("Hallmark Hall of Fame"). The network's demo, like Hallmark Cards, skews older than many, but that should appeal to countless marketers in this "graying of America" era. And that trend's one reason behind reviving Hallmark Magazine: older consumers still enjoy reading over, say, watching goofy clips on YouTube. And the Hallmark name certainly built far more awareness than the predecessor Odyssey Channel brand did!
Foolish though it might be to rebrand the network after buying it, it would not surprise me. Cingular right now is phasing out in favor of AT&T Wireless -- a few years after the venerable AT&T brand itself seemed doomed. Years ago, Philip Morris became (ugh) Altria and Nissan blew millions on Datsun advertising, then killed the Datsun name, and U.S. automakers are killing off model names galore. Coca-Cola almost killed its golden goose with "New Coke." And a number of companies today are chopping their brand names into initials (e.g., America Online became AOL, Kentucky Fried Chicken became KFC, and The WB and UPN morphed into The CW) or into meaningless abbreviations like WaMu.
In the publishing arena, we have Harper Collins' ReganBooks becoming HC in the wake of the Judy Regan/O.J. Simpson "If I Did It" fiasco and VNU Media becoming The Nielsen Co., a reverse of the initials trend that might actually work. These companies almost always cite research to show their moves are or will be right, but as we all know, research statistics can be massaged to prove nearly any point you want to make.
Rather than rebranding the Hallmark Channel, I'd suggest to the new owners that they concentrate on marketing to both present and potential viewers by actually promoting its programming outside the channel. Too many cable nets preach to the choir and wonder why they don't generate much bigger ratings. The reason, simply, is that so few potential viewers even know when a given movie or series is on or going to be on.
There, I feel better now...
Jim Forkan

Marketing Observer:

Hallmark's problem has nothing to do with their brand or programming. The company needs to focus on the fundamentals of the business. They need to get their distribution fee problem sorted out and become competitive. Hallmark must capitalize on their desirable audience of young women with children who choose them for a safe and enteraining viewing choice. Henry Schleiff is a veteran exec who can figure out the solutions to these problems. We just need to give him a chance.

Marianne Paskowski:

Hi David,
Now that the responses are coming in, I'm wondering, if you are indeed correct about the Hallmark Channelhurting the esteemed Hallmark greeting card franchise.

But I will say this to you. And to Hallmark. The cards blow. Whenever I have to send a card for a birthday, an anniversary, the death of a pet, I never buy Hallmark cards.

There has to be a way that both entities can prop each other up.

Regards,
Marianne

Marianne Paskowski:

Hi Jim,
Thanks for weighing in. Remember, there is no new buyer who will do anything with the brand. Maybe, it's the parent company that creates those sappy greetiing cards, is the real culprit here. Especially since corporate, can't get its act together in the entertainment sector. To Hallmark, I say, take a look in the mirror.

Marianne

Marianne Paskowski:

Hi Marketing,
Well said. Hope the folks at Hallmark are reading all of your "heartfelt" response and tips.

Marianne

Buck:

Hallmark= quality family friendly programming. So there is no gratuitous sex, no out of control violence- does that make it "stale"? With all the crap out there at least I can count on the Hallmark Channel to tell a story through solid writing and acting.

Marianne Paskowski:

So Buck, guess you're saying, keep the Hallmark name.

b:

Hi Marianne -

Its an interesting topic. I think Henry and his team are smart by putting out research showing Hallmark's older demo has expendable income and is using it to buy luxury goods. Why should their dollars count for less than the 18-49 demos? Also worth noting is that the older demos aren't using DVR's nearly as much as the younger viewers!

Regardless, I'm sure Henry will steer the ship in the right direction. As far as Hallmark as a brand goes, I think whoever buys it will do so for the realestate of the channel...buy the land, tear it down, and rebuild it from the ground up...with or without the Hallmark name attached to it.

Marianne Paskowski:

Hi b,
You raise an interesting point about real estate. In the case of Hallmark, many of its distribution deals are not complete. So this might not be a "location, location, location," transaction. The BW piece did not point out that glaring problem with the channel.

And while Henry has some interesting data about the older demos, he has publicly said he would like to see the channel skew slightly younger. Afterall, the 60 plus set is also in the downsizing mode.

Thanks for your thoughtful insights,
Marianne

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