TV networks are continuing to pivot toward true crime, dark mysteries and salacious murders.
Crown Media, the parent of the Hallmark channels, plans to announce a rebranding of Hallmark Movie Channel as Hallmark Movies & Mysteries during its upfront press lunch on Thursday, according to the company. The network isn't going as gritty as some of its rivals have, but it wants viewers and advertisers to be clear that there are mysteries here.
A&E Networks, meanwhile, is planning to move its LMN, formerly the Lifetime Movie Network, deeper into crime and mystery, according to industry executives. An announcement on the future of LMN is expected over the next few months, according to people familiar with the situation. A&E is currently in the process of replacing the Bio Channel with a new network called FYI, which is slated to arrive in July.
Mystery and crime genres encourage longer tune-in and engagement, Crown Media President-CEO Bill Abbott said, praising the success of Discovery Networks' Investigation Discovery (itself created from Discovery Times in 2008). "Once you start watching you get roped in for a longer period of time," he said.
Investigation Discovery has hit its stride with true crime, forensic and other crime-related documentaries in the last few years, averaging 821,000 total viewers in prime-time this season, up from 681,000 a year earlier.
That has prompted other networks such as LMN and Oxygen to tap into some true crime stories. Oxygen currently airs "Snapped" and "Snapped: Killer Couples," while LMN's schedule includes series like "Cold Case Files," "Home Invasion," "Deadly Wives" and "I Survived."
Hallmark Movies & Mysteries isn't going to become as dark as all that. It will continue to air dramatic movies in the Hallmark Hall of Fame as well as relatively dramatic holiday movies.
The new identity, which currently runs serious dramas as well as mystery movies and acquired series like "Matlock" and "Murder She Wrote," is actually less about an overhaul of programming than improving its brand and getting some separation from the Hallmark Channel. "We needed to pick a statement so there is no longer any confusion between the two networks," Mr. Abbott said.
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But there are plans to invest in more original programming, with green lights issued for four new movie mystery series to air in 2015, including "Garage Sale Mystery," which will continue the story from an original Hallmark Channel movie of the same name last September.
The network has also picked up "The Gourmet Detective," based on the series of books by Peter King. Each series will include three or four two-hour movies.
Viewership has grown for Hallmark Movie Channel this season to an average of 291,000 people in prime-time from 228,000 last season. That still lags other women's cable channels, with LMN averaging over 500,000 viewers in prime-time this season.
Hallmark Channel started airing mystery movie series like "Mystery Woman" and "Jane Doe" between 2005 and 2008 under the umbrella Hallmark Channel Mystery Wheel. As the network found success in lighter romances, it shifted the crime capers to Hallmark Movie Channel.
Hallmark Movie Channel, which is available in over 50 million homes, will start using its new name in October.