CEO Q&A: Bill Abbott, Crown Media Family Networks (extended)

Crown Media Family Networks president and CEO Bill Abbott speaks with Brittaney Kiefer about adding new content to the Hallmark Channel.

Crown Media Family Networks president and CEO Bill Abbott speaks with Brittaney Kiefer about adding new content to the Hallmark Channel. 

Talk about expanding Hallmark Channel's original primetime programming.
It's our first foray into original series programming, and we're very excited about this new undertaking. Both series are based on works by best-selling authors. One is Cedar Cove, based on the book series by Debbie Macomber, the number one bestselling author at Walmart. That will premiere in March 2013. The second is When Calls the Heart based on Janette Oke's novel. That will be shot later this year in Bucharest and premieres in June 2013. We see it as a modern-day Little House on the Prairie.

We looked at original series as being the next area that would allow us to continue to grow our audience levels, as well as our value to advertisers, affiliates, and ultimately the viewers.

How will you repurpose new programming for a digital audience?
You look at content like this, and it's perfect material to make our website and digital platforms more vibrant. The full-length shows won't be available online, but we will include behind the scenes peaks and additional information. This is an opportunity for us to expand our platform and business and monetize our opportunity in different ways.

What PR/marketing do you have planned?
Beginning in September, we'll target cable syndication and local channels, as well as print publications that reach our core demographic.

In addition to traditional PR outreach, we will actively push messaging and engage our audience through social media platforms. Additionally, we will activate sweepstakes, giveaways, special offers, and more to generate excitement around the premieres of Marie, a daytime talk show hosted by Marie Osmond, and Home & Family, a daily show shot live in a functioning house on the Universal lot. 

Do you have any other new initiatives coming up?
The Hallmark Movie Channel is now in nearly 50 million homes, but it's been a little under the radar. We'll be doing 12 new original movies for that service in 2013, so we're excited about that prospect. As that channel grows we are looking to raise its profile and make sure that it's as widely known as the Hallmark Channel.

You will also debut a new block of daytime programming that will be wholly owned, operated, and distributed by Crown Media Family Networks.
We've invested highly in the lifestyle area and in daytime with our two new shows premiering this fall. Marie! is a daytime talk show hosted by Marie Osmond.

We're also premiering Home & Family, a daily two-hour show shot live in a functioning house on the Universal lot in Los Angeles. It's a tremendous undertaking to do a live show two hours a day, five days a week, but it will be an original product that's unparalleled in this business.

Our brand is all about celebrating life's special occasions and turning the everyday into something special, and Home & Family will be just that. We'll cover topics such as decorating, travel tips, technology developments, and celebrity interviews. We think this type of show will really resonate with the Hallmark enthusiast.

How will you repurpose your new programming for a digital audience?
You look at content like this, and it's perfect material to make our website and digital platforms more vibrant. We intend on having a strong cross-platform opportunity. The full-length shows won't be available online, but we will include behind the scenes peaks and additional information.  

We view TV going digital as more of an opportunity rather than a threat. A lot of the success of sites such as YouTube is based off of cable brands; so much content that is viewed online begins with linear TV. This is an opportunity for us to expand our platform and business and really monetize our opportunity in different ways.

What PR/marketing efforts do you have planned for the new programming?
Beginning in September, we'll have an extensive marketing campaign around daytime and holiday programming that we're excited about. It will be a two-prong, off-channel, robust opportunity to create awareness of everything we're doing.

We'll target cable syndication and local channels, as well as print publications that reach our core demographic.
In addition to traditional PR outreach to trade and consumer media to raise awareness of our new daytime programming block, we will actively push messaging and engage our audience through a variety of social media platforms, including Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Get Glue. Additionally, we will activate sweepstakes, giveaways, special offers, and other unique elements to generate excitement around the premieres of Marie! and Home & Family, while building ongoing brand and show loyalty.

We also have a prolific social media fan base, including nearly 1 million Facebook followers. Social media is well-integrated with everything we do. We are involved on practically every platform we could name. But in terms of spending money on social media, we don't view it necessarily as a place we're investing in from a marketing point of view. Our marketing will be more off-channel in the traditional places such as TV and print.

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