Hallmark Channel and Hallmark Movies & Mysteries (rebranded from Hallmark Movie Channel in fall 2014) are known for their ever-growing “Countdown to Christmas” franchise. But that’s just the beginning – spurred by double digit increases across target demos, the sister nets are taking every season by storm. Michelle Vicary, Executive Vice President, Programming for Crown Media Family Networks, talks strategy and synergy.
Cynopsis: How was “Countdown to Christmas” born?
Michelle Vicary: Prior to 2010 we had scheduled and created Christmas movies, but 2010 was the first year we really put a stake in the ground and said, we are the Hallmark brand and no brand out there says holidays better than Hallmark, so why shouldn’t Hallmark Channel express that by way of entertainment? We launched “Countdown to Christmas” that year, and each year has grown. This past year we created 21 original movies across Hallmark Channel and Hallmark Movies & Mysteries. It’s really about owning it. You can see it in the ratings – people turn that Christmas programming on the day after Halloween and it stays on all the way through New Year’s Day.
Cynopsis: Has your strategy evolved?
Vicary: We decided that one network wasn’t enough. To get the full range of the brand experience, romantic comedies and dramedies as well as celebrations of the season on the dramatic side, we decided that two networks with 24/7 holiday programming would be well-received. And it was – we made both networks switch on the light for Christmas the day after Halloween. And we targeted specific times within the holiday season, so this past year while Hallmark Channel had an original movie on every Saturday night and Sunday night, on Thanksgiving we premiered an original movie every night over the entire long weekend of Wednesday through Sunday, and saw incredible numbers all five nights, and then took it one step further and premiered an original movie with a two-hour sneak peek for When Calls the Heart. So in addition to just growing, it’s finding places where we can emotionally connect with people as they are experiencing the holiday.
Cynopsis: Winterfest started right after Christmas, and leads into Valentine’s Day. How do you decide which holidays are the right fit?
Vicary: It’s holidays, but it’s also seasons and occasions in people’s lives that people either associate with our brand, or is collectively what people are experiencing in an emotional, connective, traditions and celebration kind of way. So we’re going to do a Spring Fling, three original movies this spring, then move into June weddings and then we have a big summer event, leading into our Fall Harvest. It’s tapping into not only holidays but the emotional experiences and life experiences that people are going through.
Cynopsis: Kind of like a Hallmark card.
Vicary: We had the great honor of launching Hallmark Channel in 2001 with a 100-year legacy of a brand that also had an entertainment component with the Hallmark Hall of Fame. We just turned the light on and said, “This is the Hallmark Channel,” and people immediately knew what that meant. That has not changed. It’s how we choose all of our programs and digital content, leaning into what that brand experience means for people. People are very loyal to a brand like this that taps into emotions and tradition and celebrations. We always say, even when you see something on another channel, it’s a different experience when you watch it on a channel that starts with the word Hallmark.
Cynopsis: Do you see the audience for Hallmark Channel changing?
Vicary: It is. We are not only continuing to grow year over year, we’re up women 18-49 at both networks. We are getting younger, and even as our competitors are seeing declines, our audience is continuing to grow. And not just with viewers who you might think are late adapters to new technology, but in that coveted category of women 18-49.
Cynopsis: How do you maintain the two separate identities of Hallmark Channel and Hallmark Movies & Mysteries?
Cynopsis: Even more than Hallmark Channel, Hallmark Movies & Mysteries is up dramatically with women 25-54 and 18-49. We rebranded and we saw immediate gains. By rebranding it and putting a clear tagline to it and a clear name, we have highlighted for people the differentiation between the two channels. Where Hallmark Channel is about celebrations and traditions and family and romantic relationships, we see Hallmark Movies & Mysteries as the more dramatic side, the legacy of Hallmark Hall of Fame. We’re going to continue to build our dramatic library.
Cynopsis: Hallmark Channel’s “Kitten Bowl III” reached 4.4 million unduplicated viewers and was number two on Twitter for the day. Pet programming seems to be another winner for the Hallmark brand.
Vicary: I’m not allowed to go to the set when they’re filming because I will adopt a kitten. Even my kids are like, “You have to stop.”
Hallmark is a perfect brand to help people experience and express their love for their pets. We also put our stake in the ground with our pet adoption initiative. It makes perfect sense – people think of pets as part of their family. We’re in our sixth year of the Hero Dog Awards and really making a statement around how pets save our lives and enrich our lives. We hope when you come to watch anything on our channel, when the show ends you somehow feel a little better and a little bit more hopeful.
The Cynsiders column is a platform for industry leaders to reach out to colleagues, followers, and the public at large. In their own words and in targeted Q&As, columnists address breaking news, issues of the day, and the larger changes going on in the ever-evolving world of television, video and digital. Cynsiders columns live on Cynopsis’ main page and are promoted across all daily newsletters. We welcome readers’ comments, queries, and column ideas at Lynn@Cynopsis.com.