In an ad market loaded with cable networks registering lower ratings and declining advertising revenue, Hallmark Channel and Hallmark Movies & Mysteries have been bucking the trend and thriving.
Crown Media Holdings, which owns Hallmark networks, saw an ad revenue increase of 11% to $415.6 million in 2014. In the fourth quarter, a particularly tough one industrywide, Crown’s ad revenue jumped 14% to $111.1 million.
Ed Georger, Crown Media Family Networks executive VP, advertising sales and digital media, wants to keep that momentum going in the coming upfront. “We’re fortunate that we are in a position that not a lot of people are in I think when it comes to cable and ratings. So part of our strategy is to make sure that the cable marketplace doesn’t get painted with one brushstroke,” Georger says.
Georger credits Hallmark’s ratings gains to investing in programming. In addition to the net’s popular TV movies, it has launched three successful scripted series. In this upfront, Hallmark will be selling season 4 of Andie MacDowell’s Cedar Cove and season 3 of When Calls the Heart. A Good Witch series, with Catherine Bell, star of several Hallmark Good Witch movies, premiered recently.
It’s not exactly Mad Men, Breaking Bad and The Walking Dead, AMC’s big-budget trifecta, but Hallmark’s series are kicking butt in a family-friendly way on Saturday nights.
Performance and price are bringing new advertisers in fresh categories to the network. “One of the things that we feel very strong about is that quite frankly we’ve been undervalued in the market for a number of years for a variety of reasons,” says Georger.
Original series are catnip to ad buyers, who pay top dollar for scripted series that attract viewers. And new advertisers that buy the channel because of the new programs pay higher rates than those that have been on the roster for years.
On Crown Media’s fourth-quarter earnings call, CEO Bill Abbott, a former ad sales executive, noted that ad prices on a cost-per-thousand views (CPM) basis were up sharply. Hallmark Channel registered a 47% increase and Hallmark Movies and Mysteries was up 38%.
More original programming creates opportunities to integrate brands, enabling the network to seek a bigger share of ad budgets and premium pricing. Last month the company launched an integrated marketing and digital solutions unit, Crown Connectivity.
Hallmark is also using data to boost its value to advertisers. Data from Nielsen Catalina and the Cambridge Group show that its older-skewing viewers are actually active consumers.
The network is making secondary guarantees based on the consumer data. “We did two deals last year in the upfront where we continue to do business on Nielsen ratings on women 25-54 and are delivering on that, but what we can do in certain categories is use that data is to show we are over-delivering viewers who purchase certain brands and certain products,” says Georger. “We’re in discussion with agencies now on how that might be a part of next year’s upfront.”
'HOME & FAMILY' DRAWING ATTENTION IN DAYTIME
Hallmark is renewing its Emmy-nominated daytime show Home & Family for season 4. The net believes the series has hit its stride, with ratings up 89% in women 18-49 season-to-date. The show is in production 52 weeks a year, with episodes airing the day after they’re shot.
That creates more opportunities for timely integrations, a big reason why the show is attractive to advertisers. In addition to traditional daytime sponsors in packaged goods, pharmaceuticals and health and beauty, Home & Family has been doing integrations with advertisers in categories including telecommunications, financial, travel, retail, pets, insurance, beverages and appliances. That’s helped when the show brings on experts in areas such as finance and education as guests, in addition to the usual folks demonstrating cooking and crafting, says Ed Georger, executive VP/ad sales for Hallmark parent Crown Media Family Networks.
Georger adds that the show is filled with brand advertising, and not the direct response ads that run on some channels outside of primetime. He says that 95% of the channel’s primetime advertisers also advertise in Hallmark’s lifestyle daytime programming.
Expect to see sponsorships by marketers offering wedding-oriented products. The show will have recurring wedding segments in June leading up to a special primetime edition in which series regular Paige Hemmis will exchange vows with Australian musician Jason Short.