The Date: March 27, 2007
The Venue: Michael's, New York
Key Execs: Henry Schleiff, president-CEO, Crown Media Holdings; Bill Abbott, exec VP-ad sales, Hallmark Channel and Hallmark Movie Channel; David Kenin, exec VP-programming; Laura Masse, exec VP-marketing
The Food: A Michael's breakfast that covered all the bases -- bacon, scrambled eggs, two pancakes and enough fresh berrries and melon to stock a farmer's market
The Drinks: The usual -- coffee, orange juice, etc. At 8:30, it was a tad too early for mimosas.
The Swag: Guests left the breakfast with a ribbon-wrapped fleece blanket from the Hallmark Channel, guaranteed to keep that warm and fuzzy feeling coming long after you've finished watching one of their many original movies.
The Ratings Game: Hallmark has become the little cable network that could, having experienced a lifetime-best 2006 with ratings that rank them ninth in all of ad-supported cable among adults 25-54 in prime time. Its trademark brand of family-friendly movies are now consistently attracting a 3.0 household rating or higher, with December's "The Christmas Card" scoring a network-record 4.2. By May they will have reached 80 million viewers with the second-highest ratings point growth on cable.
The Programming Slate: 2007 will bring 25 new original movies for the Hallmark Channel, more than they've had in any other year. This summer alone sees the release of "Marco Polo" starring Brian Dennehy and Ian Somerhalder of "Lost"; "Pandemic" with Faye Dunaway and Tiffany Thiessen; and the basic cable premiere of Joel Schumacher's "Phantom of the Opera" in June.
Viacom may have had Bill Clinton speak for 45 minutes at TV Land's upfront event at Lincoln Center last week, but the Hallmark Channel made sure its media friends had the opportunity to get a photo opportunity with another Clinton -- Hillary, who appeared in cardboard cut-out form at the end of the cable net's upfront press breakfast. "We have a more limited budget than Viacom," CEO Henry Schleiff joked.
Like TV Land, Hallmark is also super-serving boomers with family-friendly content, and outperforming most cable networks in prime time lately with its robust lineup of original movies. But unlike the Viacom network, Hallmark is independently owned by a greeting-card company, with which it will start rolling out more multiplatform marketing initiatives later this year. Presenting partners such as Kraft have participated in promotions consisting of in-house ads on the linear TV channel, pre-roll ads that run before greeting cards on Hallmark.com and print placement in Hallmark magazine.
Now that Hallmark has nearly 80 million subscribers for the cable channel, 4,200 dedicated stores across the country and 14 million Gold Crown members, ad sales chief Bill Abbott was able to make a credible comparison to the multiplatform Disney brand. "Hallmark understands the mutual benefits to fit its viewers into Hallmark stores. We have a greater recognition and success of business model [than Disney]. Hallmark as a brand is every bit as strong domestically," he said.
As for Mr. Schleiff, the relatively new CEO, he insisted there would be no name change anytime soon for his evolving network -- "Though the name Court TV is available," he cracked, referring to his old stomping ground.