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Hallmark Prepares to Launch HD Movie Channel With Heartland Hoopla

At a press gathering Tuesday evening in New York, showman Henry Schleiff, CEO of Crown Media, seemed to know the answer to the old showbiz question “Will it play in Peoria?” At least when it comes to Crown’s Hallmark Channel and its new offshoot, the Hallmark Movie Channel in high definition.

Far from the more sophisticated precincts of New York and Los Angeles, Mr. Schleiff is holding the launch event for the HD channel April 2 in Peoria, Ill., complete with a screening of the Hallmark Hall of Fame movie “The Magic of Ordinary Days” and an appearance by veteran actor Ernest Borgnine, who starred in “A Grandpa for Christmas” over the holidays for Hallmark.

Mr. Schleiff said Hallmark's family-friendly programming plays so well in the heartland that Hallmark Channel regularly finishes in the top 10 there among ad-supported cable networks. He said the network projects it will finish seventh for the first quarter, which is nearly over.

That programming is proving popular with advertisers as well. Mr. Schleiff said the new commercial ratings system is paying off for Hallmark Channel because its viewers tend to stay tuned through commercial breaks at a 97% clip, the highest mark in the industry.

Last year, Hallmark increased its ad revenue by about 20%. Bill Abbott, its executive VP for ad sales, projected the cable market overall will enjoy double-digit price increases on the basis of cost per thousand viewers. Hallmark Channel will be among the beneficiaries of cable’s strength, Mr. Abbott said.

Hallmark Channel is further trying to convince advertisers to spend money on the network with a new study that shows Hallmark’s target audience of baby boomers over the age of 40 is growing in number and in spending power, watching more TV and willing to switch brands based on advertising messages.

Unlike some cable networks, which have been launching original series, Hallmark Channel plans to stick with creating original movies.

Unlike original drama series, which can be “hit or miss,” Mr. Schleiff said Hallmark Channel’s movies have “consistency and predictability” in terms of their ratings performance and quality of production.

Hallmark Channel is producing 30 original movies in 2008. Advertisers will be offered the chance to participate in packages on five of the movies that will have tie-ins with Hallmark Gold Crown card stores. The network also can build multiplatform campaigns using the Web sites of Hallmark and the Hallmark Channel as well as Hallmark magazine.

The network said it has bolstered its programming for both its main channel and its movie network through a deal with Disney.

The deal covers 99 family-friendly movies, including “The Shaggy Dog,” “Flubber,” “Old Yeller,” “The Princess Diaries” and “The Santa Clause.” Financial terms were not disclosed.

“This acquisition is another big step in our growth. It will help us expand our library of programming, drive ratings and lower our [age] demos,” said Michelle Vicary, senior VP, acquisitions and scheduling, for Hallmark Channel. “Most of all, these movies are perfectly suited for the Hallmark brand of family-friendly programming and for the boomer generation, and will therefore help us attract advertisers and spur distribution for both Hallmark Channel and Hallmark Movie Channel.”

The network also acquired nonexclusive rights to the series “The Golden Girls” from Disney-ABC Domestic Television, which expects to sell it to an additional outlet. The series had been airing on Lifetime.

11:30 a.m.: Updated final paragraph


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