At a time when the prolonged writers’ strike is threatening to drive broadcast networks’ viewers online, several cable channels, including Hallmark Channel, Lifetime Television and Court TV, are redesigning their Web sites to bring more viewers to their brands.
Hallmark is relaunching its site with more video and new community boards in a bid to use the online space to draw advertisers and younger viewers to its older-skewing brand.
Lifetime, meanwhile, brought on new distribution partners like Glam Media to increase its reach and added original broadband video from big names like The Daily Show with Jon Stewart co-creator Lizz Winstead.
Independently owned Hallmark launched its redesign last week to lure both new advertisers and viewers unfamiliar with its brand. The work of the network’s four-person internal digital team, the site now includes more streaming video of original-movie footage and broadband-only series, as well as community groups for users to post photos, blog and share video with each other.
All of these networks are looking to increase users’ length of stay and open up more space for advertising. But Hallmark, which targets adults 25-54 with family-friendly TV programming, is also trying to use the site to familiarize younger viewers with its brand. To help with that, Hallmark is promoting the TV Web site on sister site Hallmark.com, where young and old go to buy gifts and cards.
"We’re opening up to a younger demo online," senior vice president of creative services Marvin Dorson said. "It’s an opportunity for us to expose a younger viewer to what we offer online and what we offer on the air."
For its part, Lifetime relaunched its Web site as myLifetime.com, emphasizing the community aspect to its some 2.3 million registered online users. The network paired with distributors like Glam, which reaches 24 million Web users, to increase its reach. It is also pairing with content providers like RealArcade and Revolution Health to increase its offerings of games and health content, respectively.
Lifetime also plans to premiere more than 20 original Web series on the site in 2008, with marquee talent like Winstead, whose show, Gift Intervention, centers on recipients of bad gifts and the people who sent them.
"We’re truly doubling down in this space," Lifetime Networks digital chief Dan Suratt said, pointing out that between the video, new polls and games, Lifetime will look to increase the length of time viewers spend on the site. "We’re offering more content that’s good for our users in digestible bites,” he added. “They can get that decompression they’re looking for and get back to their lives."
Hallmark will also launch several microsites tied to story lines in its ratings-generating original movies. First up is The Note, tied to the movie of the same name, which premieres Dec. 8 and focuses on a journalist searching for the author of a note she finds at a plane crash. Viewers can choose stationery, font types and musical scores for online notes, and then e-mail the recipient an alert saying that a note is waiting on the site.
All of these networks’ redesigns are enabled in part by the wider availability and affordability of Web-design software. Hallmark, for example, redid its site in just a few months using off-the-shelf software and a program called KickApps that enabled the new community functions.
"A lot of this was recognizing the potential of new technologies that were available," VP of media management Mark Stolnitz said. "The community function, for example, cost pennies compared to what it cost for early adopters.”