Cable Nets Gorge on Holiday Fare to Lure Advertisers Hungry for Family-Friendly Shows

Hallmark Channel, Lifetime, ABC Family Find Fourth Quarter the Most Wonderful Time of the Year

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There's no place like TV for the holidays. When Charlie Brown first decorated that sorry excuse for an evergreen in 1965, it was a cinch for advertisers to reach entire families with one TV spot. But that's about as realistic today as actually saving the Bailey Building & Loan.

Hallmark's 'Pete's Christmas' is sponsored by Walmart and Procter & Gamble.
Hallmark's 'Pete's Christmas' is sponsored by Walmart and Procter & Gamble.

In a world where families are watching different content in different rooms on different devices, it's nearly impossible to find the whole house watching together -- except at Christmas.

That makes holiday programming a hot opportunity for marketers, and a big business for networks that dedicate hundreds of hours to original holiday movies and reruns of classics.

For Hallmark Channel, which kicked off 1,300 hours of wall-to-wall holiday fare Nov. 2, its "Countdown to Christmas" franchise accounts for 30% of annual ad revenue. It's no wonder that the network allocates about 60% of its marketing budget to promoting its most wonderful time of the year.

"The fourth quarter is the highest-rated, highest-revenue generator and where we invest the majority of our resources," said Ed Georger, exec VP–advertising sales at Crown Media, parent of Hallmark Channel.

The holiday marathons and originals from Hallmark, along with ABC Family, and most recently, Lifetime, also attract a wider variety of advertisers than during the rest of the year. We "get budgets we maybe wouldn't get other times of the year," said Laura Nathanson, exec VP–national sales, ABC Family, whose core audience is millennial women. "With holiday programming, you bring the whole family together, which is rare these days, and advertisers are intrigued by that."

While retailers continue to be the biggest holiday partners, networks have been striking more deals with financial services, telecommunications companies and quick-service restaurants. And this year, automakers appear to be ramping up spending on cable during the holidays, with both Hallmark Channel and Lifetime noting first-time deals within the category.

With gritty dramas and horror series some of the most-popular programming on cable, holiday wholesomeness appeals to marketers. "Advertisers like to be associated with pure, good, holiday content," said Michael Law, senior VP–video activations, Carat.

Hallmark is writing new deals with brands like Dick's Sporting Goods and Sports Authority. And Macy's is expanding its partnership as sole sponsor of Hallmark's new Christmas Day event, when the channel will rerun 12 original holiday movies back-to-back sans commercials.

Hallmark begins marketing "Countdown to Christmas" in July and starts to tease new content in August. This year it had the benefit of using its first original scripted series, "Cedar Cove," as a platform to advertise holiday programming, said William Abbott, Crown president-CEO.

The network's premiere of "The Thanksgiving House" on Nov. 2 was watched by 4.7 million people, making it the highest-rated and most-watched program on the channel this year. Lifetime kicks off its holiday programming Nov. 9 and will air about 450 hours of holiday programs and seven new original holiday movies. Network executives noted the channel spends about 10% to 15% of its marketing budget to promote its holiday slate.

In its 16th year, ABC Family's "25 Days of Christmas" is being expanded. The network has tacked on an extra week of holiday programming between Christmas Day and New Year's, dubbed "A Week of Wonderful," an idea that came about when a retail partner was looking to drive gift-card usage after Christmas.

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