Last week, after a run of eight years at the helm of Court TV, Henry Schleiff officially began his job as president/CEO of Hallmark Channel, which is owned by Crown Media Holdings. Schleiff, who helped build Court TV into a top cable- network brand, is charged with giving debt-ridden, geriatric-leaning Hallmark a facelift of its own. In its ongoing struggle to ease debt, the network sold domestic rights to its film library to onetime Hallmark subsidiary RHI Enterprises for $160 million last week. Schleiff talked with B&C's Anne Becker about where he plans to take Hallmark.
How are the challenges you face at Hallmark different from those you faced at Court TV?
With Court TV, we really had to create a brand where there was none. Here the challenge—the opportunity, I'm happy to say—is to take advantage of one of the most well-regarded names in America.
Just as if you care enough to send the very best, it almost stands for if you care enough to watch the very best.
There are enormous things we can do, not the least of which is to work with our parent, Hallmark Cards, to do more original programming that shouts the kind of quality and values—let alone family-friendly programming—for which the Hallmark brand is known.
What kind of programming will that be?
More programming in and around the holidays. More programming that appeals to women 25-54, for which few cable networks are out there directly appealing. We have so many networks that are looking at 18-49 as the demographic.
How do we take advantage of the 25-54 demographic that is increasingly well-respected by the advertising community for its buying power?
What's the network's median age, and how do you lower it?
The median age is senior 50s. You do it with brand-enhancing original programming. If you look at the recently rolled out Hallmark magazine, it's around lifestyle issues: health, home, crafts. That is what so much of America is looking for and for which there's not enough programming directly related to. Look at the success of syndicated programming out there like Rachael Ray.
Let's take a page out of what is working in that area and see if we can duplicate that, given the strategic benefit of the Hallmark brand recognition.
Crown Media has lost more than $1.4 billion since 2000. Are your hands tied in making new shows?
Everybody has budgets. We're going to be fiscally responsible, which I think is the hallmark—no pun intended—of any well-run business.
On the other hand, my being brought aboard signals the kind of commitment Hallmark has made to the future growth and success of this company, so it's going to make the appropriate level of investment.
Hallmark has been very quiet on the multiplatform front. Any plans to change that?
Our Website has been largely promotional. The question is, how do we take that and make it more of a value proposition to our advertisers? You take the Hallmark name, start to do some things on that Web that reflect the interests of our viewership: information, community, more about the network. Suffice it to say, I think it is probably a hugely untapped opportunity.
Given that Hallmark Cards failed to find a buyer for the channel, is it planning a corporate restructuring?
I wouldn't comment on that.
Your subscriber rates are just pennies a month. How do you get them up?
The Hallmark viewer is by and large the cable operator's bill payer. That's something the operator needs to take greater advantage of. They are focusing on ancillary services, including Internet access and telephony, where the low and middle hanging fruit have already been picked but where the Hallmark viewer is a potential customer.
It seems the appropriate benchmark is to say, what do other 1.3-rated cable networks get? I read Fox News is running around with a 1.3 asking for $1.
I'm not saying that's the number, but you can't argue with the logic that there should be some reflection between household ratings the cable operator gets and what the cable network gets for delivering those households.
First order of business?
The most important thing I can do for the next couple of weeks is listen, which, as you know, for me is probably the hardest thing I could possibly challenge myself to do.