Executive Interview: Hallmark CEO William J. Abbott

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CableU.tv is honored to bring you this exclusive interview with William J. Abbott, President and Chief Executive Officer for Crown Media Holding, owner and operator of Hallmark Channel and Hallmark Movie Channel. Abbott oversees a team of seasoned executives who manage the day-to-day operations of all facets of the channels, including programming, marketing, ad sales, distribution, finance, legal and online initiatives. Abbott is an industry veteran with more than 20 years of leadership experience in family television, the last nine of which have been at Crown Media.


Can you talk a little bit about the uniqueness of Hallmark as brand? And the business challenges that come with being an independent channel?

The power of our Brand gives our independent status a huge boost and often works to our advantage on the cable network landscape. Advertisers and distribution partners place a high value on our Channels because of the strength of the Hallmark name, and the fact that it is synonymous with quality, family and celebration. They also appreciate competition in the marketplace, and having strong, viable independents is a plus for their businesses. Therefore, the Brand and our independence works in our favor.

How do you work with Hallmark Cards?

We have dramatically sharpened our focus on identifying and developing opportunities to work synergistically with Hallmark Cards so that we can leverage the power of this amazing Brand which is now 100 years old. For example, this past holiday season we introduced their popular characters, hoops&yoyo -- which have sold millions of cards and other merchandise -- as hosts of multiple ”Movie Nights with hoops&yoyo.” The response was terrific and more customized “Movie Nights with hoops&yoyo” are scheduled leading to Valentine’s Day. There is incredible value both for Hallmark Cards and Hallmark Channels in this unique relationship.

What is the difference between Hallmark Channel and Hallmark Movie Channel?

We are just beginning to truly embark on differentiating HC from HMC. Hallmark Channel will be the home for original and acquired series, specials, celebrations, holidays and special occasions. It’s where we showcase our year-round “Countdown to Holiday” programming and marketing initiative. Hallmark Movie Channel will celebrate 24/7 the heritage of Hallmark as a prolific, award-winning movie production group combined with a mix of classic theatrical films, presentations from the acclaimed Hallmark Hall of Fame library and our popular original family-friendly movies.

What is the key element that makes a program right for your network?

Any elements that are family friendly and help people connect – in the tradition of Hallmark Cards – would make a program ideal for our Channels.

What programs and/or genres are you looking for in the next year?

For Hallmark Channel, we will look to capture the essence of the Brand around home, celebrations, occasions and holidays. Hallmark Movie Channel will include World Premiere Original Movies for the first time in 2010.

How do you feel your time as Executive Vice President of Advertising Sales has helped prepare you to be well suited, as CEO, to lead the charge to improve Hallmark's position and revenue generation?

Advertising Sales is a great springboard as it provides a very strong background in virtually all other areas of the business including marketing, programming and the numbers that drive the business.

What's the best way for a producer to pitch to Hallmark Channels?

The best way is to know our channel and the sensibilities of our audience and what we program.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

Be prepared for anything…and success is a choice!

What’s the best advice you’ve ever given?

Who you work for is often more important than where you work.

Who in this industry do you most admire and why?

Anne Sweeney for her great success at transforming ABC/Disney.

In all of television, which classic program should be revived?

The Brady Bunch

Should NEVER be revived?

Fantasy Island

Bio (continued): Most recently, Abbott served as the company’s Executive Vice President, Advertising Sales, where he is credited with increasing advertising revenues for Hallmark Channel from $10.2 million to $223 million in 2008, setting the network apart as an industry leader.  In that role, he oversaw offices in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Atlanta, and was responsible for all of the national advertising sales operations for the channels, Internet services and digital network development.

Abbott and his team have positioned the channel well within the ad sales community where it is known for its high-quality family programming, continuous top 10 ratings leadership in C3 audience retention and length-of-tune among all ad-supported cable networks.

In 2008, Abbott led the ad sales team to secure the first Upfront deal of the ‘08-‘09 season.  The multi-million dollar deal with ad agency Starcom included multiple clients  across  the  agency  and  featured  a  multi-platform  promotion, “Every Day is a Holiday,” which featured on-air and online presence.  The partnership allowed the agency’s clients to choose a specific time of year important to their brands and products in order to break through the clutter with customized packages that include vignettes.

In January 2004, Abbott launched the “Sponsorship Solutions Unit,” a revolutionary department that provides advertisers with unique opportunities to prominently showcase their message within Hallmark Channel programming.  One of the Unit’s most successful ventures to date is “movie entitlements.”  The entitlements allow advertisers to platform their brands and products in programming with a reduced commercial load that is proven to increase viewer engagement and length-of-tune.

Abbott has been with Crown Media since 2000 after serving as Senior Vice President, Advertising Sales, for Fox Family Worldwide where he was responsible for advertising sales activity for Fox Family Channel and Fox Kids Network.  He worked in a variety of advertising sales and research positions within Fox Family Worldwide (and under its previous operation as The Family Channel) since 1988.  His experience includes both cable and broadcast television advertising sales, having represented Fox Family Channel, Fox Kids Network and The Family Channel.

Abbott’s additional experience includes positions with CBS Radio Networks, Seltel, Inc. and Nadler & Larimer Advertising.  He is a graduate of the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass.