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Plugging Hallmark into cable market

Jan 21, 2002  •  Post A Comment

Building a network is like building a house, says Lana Corbi, who became president and CEO of the Hallmark Channel U.S. in October. She should know. She and her architect husband have been building their dream home on a “difficult lot” in the hills above West Hollywood for the past four years, and only now is the house finally ready for moving in.
There will be two homes on the property, actually. One for herself, her husband, their one-year-old twins and her parents. The other is for her brother and sister-in-law and their children. Ask her what the target audience is for the Hallmark Channel and it’s this extended family, plus all the nieces and the cousins who come over to watch TV, to whom she points.
Prior to becoming CEO of the channel, which was formerly known as the Odyssey Network, Ms. Corbi was executive vice president and chief operating officer of Crown Media Holdings, the parent company, where she was responsible for business development, corporate communications and government relations. Ms. Corbi talks about her plans for refining Hallmark Channel’s advertising and programming strategies in 2002 in this edited interview:
EM: How is building a network like building a new house?
Ms. Corbi: It’s very much a parallel to what we’re doing. You watch the foundation, but you don’t live on the foundation. You finally get to the last stages, which is where we’re at right now, and you begin to really see the fruit of your labor and the evidence of the things that were [once] just a design concept.
EM: What was your mandate when you were given this new position at Hallmark?
Ms. Corbi: The mandate for this channel evolved over the period of time that it was becoming Hallmark Channel, and I was already very familiar with it and involved in it.
Hallmark is one of the top ten brands in the country, and it already has enormous meaning to people, with a 50-year history really [through] the Hallmark Hall of Fame.
It is the dominant brand in family-friendly entertainment, and the goal of this network is to become the dominant choice in family-friendly entertainment.
EM: How are you going to accomplish that, and what will you accomplish over the next 12 months?
Ms. Corbi: The goals are essentially fourfold. One is to increase the distribution of the channel, to get the channel in as many homes as we can. Over the next year I would like to see the channel reach 50 million homes. We’re in 41 million homes right now.
I would like to continue to refine our programming vision so that we absolutely meet viewer expectations of this brand 24 hours a day. That will be in bringing more original programming to the channel, which is produced by Hallmark [Entertainment], and by programming that exemplifies the vision for the channel, which is stories that stay with you, stories that celebrate the human spirit.
We will be developing new revenue sources. This is a business that is billed as a two revenue-stream business, but if you’re a relatively new entrant into the business, the strongest revenue source is advertising.
Because we provide an environment that is ideal for many advertisers, I will look to develop new partnerships with advertisers, with other major brands, that are mutually beneficial, creating new models and new configurations, so that as advertising dollars are tighter we can maximize the value of what we bring in this environment.
The fourth primary objective is to essentially develop strong viewer awareness and demand for the brand. This is the year where I would like to see the channel really take hold.
We’re seeing it already in our ratings. The coming year is very much pivotal for us, to take a start-up network and bring to it a rich tradition, and to do it in a way that’s contemporary.

EM: What are some examples of new advertising models on the channel? Might we see `Procter & Gamble Presents …’?
Ms. Corbi: That’s one of the possibilities. It may mean coproductions with us, it may mean single sponsorships, as well as possibilities to connect with the Hallmark viewer through multiple platforms-the channel, interactive products, associations that we have with the Hallmark stores. Another goal [is] taking the brand into publishing, taking it into music, taking it into radio.
One thing that I’ve learned is the importance of the local market. That’s really where you meet the viewer, so that means being involved in communities, that means being involved in cause-related opportunities, being involved with other activist groups, like PTA, with elected officials, providing something meaningful for people’s lives.
EM: How about new programming for the next year?
Ms. Corbi: We’re looking now at about eight original movies a year; we’d like to increase that to at least one a month, so we have major promotable events at least once a month.
Hallmark Entertainment owns a majority of our stock and they really are the production entity that provides original programming to the network, so they will be increasing their product.
We’ll also be talking to third-party producers about products. We’re looking at both movie production and original series. Reality is something we would look at. I think reality is a wonderful genre, provided that it’s done in a positive way.