By Brian Steinberg
Hallmark Channel’s recipe for launching a new block of Martha Stewart-themed daytime programming on its air calls for generous helpings of, well, any promotional tool you can conceive.
In an effort that will encompass everything from TV promos to coupons to entreaties at a bevy of national retailers, the Crown Media Holdings-owned cable outlet is working furiously to ensure fans of Ms. Stewart’s recent programs, which have been syndicated though local broadcast stations for years, will make the move when her popular "Martha Stewart" program and others start airing on Hallmark on Sept. 13.
"Having her fans know where they can find her on a consistent day on a consistent network — that is a challenge when you’re in syndication," said Susanne McAvoy, senior VP-marketing, Hallmark Channel. The new effort, she said, aims to make sure her fans know where to come and when. The effort carries the tagline, "Make the Move with Martha."
Getting fans and other home-arts aficionados to follow Ms. Stewart from syndication to cable is crucial for Hallmark, which is hoping eight hours of Martha-themed programming set to air Monday through Friday will reposition the network and make it more than just a venue known for sentimental Hallmark movies and "M*A*S*H" reruns.
"Hallmark is thinking this is kind of a little bit of a rebranding," said Derek Baine, a senior analyst at SNL Kagan. The move "definitely gives the network more of a definition."
The potential benefits include more than just ad sales. At present, Hallmark is paid about 6 cents per subscriber from the distributors that make it available to viewers, according to SNL Kagan. That’s a far cry from the 24 cents per subscriber paid to Cablevision Systems’ AMC and the $1.03 paid to Time Warner’s TNT. More pull with viewers could mean more leverage in negotiations with cable and satellite providers.
To call attention to the move, the channel is pulling out the stops in a promotional effort believed to be valued somewhere between $5 million and $8 million — representing the largest marketing effort Hallmark Channel has ever put into practice. Advertising will play out on TV, on the radio, in print and across out-of-home venues, said Ms. McAvoy, as well as with messages distributed through Valpak mailers; a sweepstakes; and local street teams giving out satchels with a Martha Stewart recipe inside in select cities. The campaign began in earnest this week.
In a sign of the effort’s total sweep, Hallmark is running ads on billboards and digital kiosks in 105 malls in 19 different markets.
Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, the company that manages various Martha Stewart properties, is also doing some promotional work. The company will leverage its relationships with retailers that sell Martha Stewart-branded goods — including Macy’s and PetSmart — to call attention to the shift.
The company, after all, also has something at stake. By moving its flagship show to cable from syndicated distribution on broadcast, the corporation risks reaching a smaller audience. What’s more, the show had seen declining revenue in recent months. Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia notched $8.2 million in broadcasting revenue in the second quarter of 2010, down from $10.3 million in the previous year, according to the company, which cited lower revenue from "The Martha Stewart Show" as one of the factors in the year-over-year shortfall.
At the same time, Ms. Stewart is likely to have a greater, more sustained presence on Hallmark, as MSLO is also contributing two other programs—“Mad Hungry with Lucinda Scala Quinn" and "Whatever With Alexis and Jennifer," which features Ms. Stewart’s daughter—to the mix.
Ms. Stewart also joins a gradual exodus of popular daytime personalities moving from syndication to cable. Oprah Winfrey is set to debut a eponymous cable network — OWN — through Discovery Communications in early 2011. Joining her on that channel’s programming roster will be popular daytime personality Rosie O’Donnell, who will launch a new daytime show there.
One TV executive believes advertisers will still be interested in Ms. Stewart’s offerings, including her flagship show. "Even though it may not have the same presence as it might on broadcast, it will certainly have a substantial presence on cable and will likely deliver if not the same audience, a similar and maybe more targeted audience," said Bill Carroll, VP-director of programming at Katz Television Group, where he advises local stations on programming choices.
And few folks think Ms. Stewart is still lingering under any sort of a cloud from her time spent off the air and in jail as a result of a stock-trading misadventure that took the spotlight off her cooking and decorating skills earlier in the decade.
"Her redemption now seems to be complete," said Denis Riney, exec VP-marketing at BrandLogic, a branding consultant in Wilton, Conn. "Hallmark, one of America’s most wholesome brands, must have determined that her negatives are mostly forgotten. In a post-Madoff, post-Lehman world, her financial shenanigans now seem relatively trivial."