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Hallmark Banks on Content

Mar 16, 2008  •  Post A Comment

Henry Schleiff, president and CEO of the Hallmark Channel, Hallmark Movie Channel and their parent company, Crown Media Holdings, wants to be clear about one thing: The coast—even the coast he’s on, which is East—is not where he’s aiming. Hallmark Movie Channel HD, which makes its debut April 2 on Time Warner, Comcast and other cable operators, is taking aim where the Hallmark channels have always scored: right through the heartland.
“Families across America are hungry for wholesome family programming in a landscape that’s littered in violence,” Mr. Schleiff said, speaking from his office in New York. “There are virtually no networks for family. There are specialized networks, but we’re the only one—Hallmark and Disney—where you know exactly what you’re getting in terms of programming.”
The Hallmark Movie Channel HD, Mr. Schleiff added, will broadcast frame for frame what viewers of Hallmark Movie Channel are seeing, which means a lot of technicians have been working overtime to up-convert older shows shot in standard definition to get things ready for the rollout of the hi-def movie channel.
Commercials also will be simulcast on both channels, but Mr. Schleiff downplayed the hi-def aspect of those ads. “What advertisers are concerned with these days is content and not technology,” he said. “Within the general outline of HD, what’s important to viewers and advertisers is actual product.
“I’ll let you in on a dirty little secret,” Mr. Schleiff said. “In terms of hi-def, people don’t always notice the difference. The process is evolutionary. A lot of people in middle America don’t have digital—but the important thing is that it’s available right now. What will get it to roll is those who have attractive content. We’ll help drive the growth in technology for middle America.”
While doing double duty on both standard- and hi-def movie channels might not be cost-effective for Hallmark right away, what with transfer costs and other start-up expenses, Mr. Schleiff is confident it will be “cost-effective over time.”
Right now it’s “an investment in the future,” he said. “Hallmark Channel is the fastest-growing cable network in the country in terms of ratings and growth in ad revenue. We’re trying to take that success and channel it into another network.”
To that end, Mr. Schleiff said, Hallmark Movie Channel HD will roll out what has always attracted viewers to the Hallmark brand: classic theatrical films such as “Annie” and “Old Yeller,” along with other family movies and Hallmark Hall of Fame productions, which have won 81 Emmy Awards over the years.
Both of the movie channels also will show original programming and special events, such as miniseries “Son of the Dragon,” which stars David Carradine and makes its debut April 2 on both Hallmark Movie Channel and Hallmark Movie Channel HD.
Mr. Schleiff notes that while the Hallmark networks are family-oriented, they’re not necessarily aimed at the youth market per se.
“One of the most important points that gets overlooked,” he said, “is that more people under the age of 40 are watching the Internet—but people forget the other side of the equation. Baby boomers are not only growing in [numbers] and buying power, they’re also growing in the amount of time they watch television. So if you’re an advertiser, you need to reach a larger audience and you think, ‘If I’m going to put my dollars toward TV, I want my money to go for the most people who are going to see it.’
“What an advertiser has to see is how effective their ads are,” he added. Hallmark scores high in audience retention, and it’s among the channels with the longest length of tune-in, both factors that generally translate to positive commercial-watching numbers.
The engine that drives the ad sales, Mr. Schleiff opined, is still the Hallmark brand. “We’re very proud of that, that advertisers can turn to their clients and not have to explain,” he said. “You never have to be embarrassed by what’s shown on a Hallmark channel.”
“The [high-definition] part of it is extra credit,” he added. “This is the perfect vehicle to reach [baby boomers]. It starts with a headline network singularly devoted to family movies.”
In standard- or high-definition, Mr. Schleiff noted, “No other network can say that.”

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