Net Seeks Hallmark in Digital Movie Space

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Eighteen months after announcing a soft launch for Hallmark Movie Channel, Crown Media Holdings has launched an aggressive programming effort to boost the digital network's profile.

David Kenin, executive VP of programming for the Hallmark Channels, told B&C Saturday that the effort to ramp up the movie channel, launched in January 2004 as a 24-hour-per-day digital outlet for titles from the extensive Hallmark Hall of Fame library, began this month.

But the first 18 months of the movie channel were almost "a rehearsal for what we just started. There will be a further escalation before the end of the year," including "pro-social initiatives," he says.

"We have a huge library of titles, many of which are literary, many of which have elements to them that we can probably use a lot on the channel," he says.

Kenin is having his programming team sort out titles for Hallmark's basic and digital tier brands, with little crossover potential involved.

Beyond literary themes, he wants the movie channel to carry classics, mythological stories, and fairytales.

The new emphasis on the digital brand comes as Hallmark Channel approaches maturity, like many of its viewers. It has reached 69 million subscribers-nearing the 80 million-plus range that only a handful of top-tier networks inhabit-and performing well in the ratings. It enjoyed record-breaking first and second quarters this year and had its highest-rated June in the channel's four-year history.

So far in the third quarter, it ranks 10th in total day with a 0.7 rating and ninth in prime time with a 1.2 household mark--out of 59 ad-supported cable networks.

Kenin attributes the strong ratings to the channel's rotating Sunday night Mystery Movie wheel and, when questioned during the TV Critics  press tour about the channel's older demos, points out its median age has dropped a decade over the past few years.

Hallmark Channel Saturday outlined nine new projects, including an updated Diagnosis Murder-style crime series with Diagnosis Murder's Dick Van Dyke for the Mystery Movie.

Van Dyke will star in the monthly Murder 101, about a criminology professor with short-term memory problems-"much like me," says Van Dyke, who bumbles his way through daily minutia while brilliantly solving crimes.

Kenin also highlighted A Man Who Became Pope, billed as an acquired four-hour event movie airing Aug. 15.

It chronicles the life and times of the late John Paul II up to the moment he was named Pope.

Hallmark pointed out that the late Pontiff was once quoted as being "impressed and appreciative" of the film.

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