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Jon Lafayette

Hallmark Leans on Traditional Strengths in Upfront Negotiations

When Calls The Heart.

Amid a stormy media environment that has many cable networks rethinking their future, Hallmark Channel is sticking with what has been a successful formula as the upfront market approaches.

“We rely on and lean into this brand and the fans that come with it,” Ed Georger, executive VP of ad sales and digital media for Hallmark Media, told Broadcasting+Cable.

Advertisers rely on the brand also, particularly in the fourth quarter, when Hallmark’s popular holiday programming kicks in.

In an election year, when campaigns will spend billions to reach voters in November, Hallmark will not accept political ads on any of its platforms, Georger said.

While many other cable networks are cutting back on their original, scripted programming, marketers can count on Hallmark delivering.

“Good quality storytelling still matters,” Georger said, noting that like last year, Hallmark plans to make about 100 movies — including 40 original Christmas films — and return three original scripted series, including When Calls the Heart, which is launching Season 11 over the weekend. 

“How many scripted series in television are on season 11?“ Georger asked. “That consistency delivering on the brand promise through emotional content, positive content, is what we stay true to. I think that also differentiates us in the marketplace.” 

Ed Georger (Image credit: Hallmark Channel)

In conversations with Hallmark, many clients have expressed concerns about the ability to find mass reach and scale, Georger said.

Hallmark has not been immune from cord-cutting and the shift to streaming. Total viewership was down 10% in 2023. Most other entertainment networks on cable saw bigger losses, and Hallmark finished the year as the No. 3 cable entertainment network, behind HGTV and TNT.

Hallmark was the top cable entertainment network among adults 25 to 54.

“There are still a few places that can draw consistently large audiences, and I would argue that’s sports, news and Hallmark,” Georger said.

Advertisers are also worried that as more transactions are automated and programmatic, brand safety suffers.

“Letting algorithms choose where your ads are going to run, you’re going to give up some of that brand security, so we position ourselves as an alternative to that,” he said.

Hallmark works with clients to dial up the contextual relevance of their ads, Georger said, particularly when it comes to putting seasonal ads in Hallmark’s seasonal programming.

“The relevant content makes our platform effective,” he said.

That’s not just at Christmas time. Home Depot is promoting its spring cleanup products in Hallmark’s current spring programming. Soon it will be barbecue season and summer vacation.

“I think those things help differentiate us in the marketplace and solve for some of the challenges that advertisers have as they lean into other methods of transacting, whether that’s programmatic or other automated processes,” Georger said.

Hallmark last year started working with EDO, which measures campaign results and found that commercials appearing during Hallmark movie premieres and new series episodes are 52% more likely to engage viewers than during the average Hallmark program.

Most of Georger’s attention goes to Hallmark Media’s main network, Hallmark Channel. Two other channels have recently been rebranded as Hallmark Mysteries and Hallmark Family. The company also has a subscription service and free ad-supported streaming television (FAST) channels.

Last year Hallmark hired Emily Powers from BritBox as executive VP of streaming and digital platforms. She’s working on a digital strategy that will future-proof the brand and keep it relevant.

Eyes on the KPIs

In this upfront season, Hallmark is sitting down in one-on-one meetings with clients, and listening to them, finding out what’s important to them and what KPIs (key performance indicators) they’re trying to deliver, Georger said.

Hallmark is not immune to the trend of media buyers and advertisers looking to shift cable ad dollars to streaming as consumers change their viewing habits.

“Certainly there are some pressures on the industry,” Georger said. “While there are a lot of options out there, there is something to be said about transparency and reliability.”

That includes working with a familiar ad-sales team. Georger has been with Hallmark for 25 years and most of his senior sales management team have also been there for a long time.

“It’s a nimble group,“ he said. ”Doing upfront or any business with Hallmark is pretty narrowly defined versus what you might have to navigate in dealing with one of these larger media companies. There’s something to be said for that, too.”

Hallmark is capping that off by inviting clients to a series of high-end experiences, such as classes, cocktails and dinners.

“That’s just a way for us to build relationships and connect with our clients,“ Georger said. “But it also makes the point that experiencing this brand is what our viewers do.”

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