More Networks Deck the Halls

Wider swath of programmers bidding for seasonal destination status
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It’s a tradition nearly as old as the Rockefeller Center tree-lighting or traffic at the airport: TV networks this time of year kick off several weeks of holiday mania.

But just as the overall programming scene is coping with the wages of Peak TV, so also is the holiday category reshuffling. Instead of a handful of cable and broadcast networks, the yuletide cheer is now spread across SVOD services and multicasters, providing more optIons and destinations than ever for the yule-inclined.

B&C took a look at how some networks are putting their own stamps on the crowded landscape of seasonal programming.

HALLMARK: A Christmas Original

Hallmark, which has had its “Countdown to Christmas” block since 2009, sees its original holiday movies—which have this year grown to 26 between its two networks—as the cornerstone.

“Virtually every single movie that we air on Hallmark Channel and Hallmark Movies and Mysteries, we’ve made, so they can’t be seen anywhere else,” said Michelle Vicary, executive VP, programming and network publicity at Hallmark parent Crown Media Family Networks. “You could see a Christmas movie on one channel in November then a competitor might have another window in December. There’s a sameness there.”

One of Hallmark Channel’s newer strategies is premiering original movies on Christmas and New Year’s Day. A Rose for Christmas, about the iconic Tournament of Roses Parade, will be Hallmark’s first New Year’s-themed original.

Its Christmas Day film—When Calls the Heart Christmas—will air with limited commercials and is based on the network’s hit series of the same name.

Hallmark Channel’s talk show Home and Family will mark the season with a primetime special Nov. 17 featuring musical performances and special guests. Hallmark Channel has also acquired the exclusive premiere of the National Christmas Tree lighting in Washington, D.C.

Ion: Transforming for the Holidays

Original holiday movies are also a priority for Ion TelevisIon, which has been in the game since 2008.

“It’s something that sort of snuck up on us,” Brandon Burgess, Ion Media Networks chairman and CEO, said of the popularity of its seasonal programming. “It’s the one time of year advertisers are willing to pay as much for environment as they are for ratings.”

Ion now has 35 titles in its holiday library. The slate of five new originals includes A Vermont Christmas Vacation. The Chevy Chase sequel will air Nov. 27, with the four other originals airing on Saturdays and Sundays. Ion will repeat its originals on Christmas Day.

Ion, which mainly airs off-network dramas and crime procedurals, also benefits sales-and ratings-wise from the increased tune-in. “It’s like a totally different network,” with more of a family focus, Burgess said. “I wish we had Christmas year-round.”

FREEFORM: Next-GeneratIon Holidays

This is the 20th year of the network’s 25 Days of Christmas block, but the first since ABC Family rebranded as Freeform. “Even though the network has a new name, ‘25 Days’ will have as much, if not more, impact,” said Sarah Lindman, Freeform senior VP, content planning and strategy. “As audiences may be fragmenting across different screens, an event like this is still something that brings a family together.”

Fans of the franchise shouldn’t be concerned about drastic changes either, as Freeform will continue to air acquired mainstays such as The Santa Clause and The Polar Express. Holiday Joy and Just Friends are among newer titles added this year.

In order to target what it has dubbed its “Becomer” demo—14-34s—Freeform will have its largest menu of digital offerings ever, Lindman said. Freeform is also launching 25DaysofChristmasTV.com, which will post new daily holiday content and polls about the movies in addition to GIFs and micro-videos.

GETTV: Delivering Cheer via Diginet

For the second year, the Sony-owned multicast network rolls out “The Most Wonderful Month of the Year” from Nov. 27 through Christmas Day. It will feature rare and classic TV series episodes and films, including the network premiere of The Christmas Wish, a 1998 film starring Neil Patrick Harris and Debbie Reynolds, and four weeks of Sunday-night Perry Como specials.

Jeff Meier, senior VP of programming for getTV, calls the package “a perfect Christmas time capsule, packed with unforgettable holiday moments that many of our viewers remember fondly, but haven’t been able to see for a long time.”

It’s a tradition nearly as old as the Rockefeller Center tree-lighting or traffic at the airport: TV networks this time of year kick off several weeks of holiday mania.

But just as the overall programming scene is coping with the wages of Peak TV, so also is the holiday category reshuffling. Instead of a handful of cable and broadcast networks, the yuletide cheer is now spread across SVOD services and multicasters, providing more optIons and destinations than ever for the yule-inclined.

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