Just a year ago, a bigger-than-anticipated snowstorm in the New York City metro area forced Crown Media Family Networks to cancel their perennial Upfront event. Not so last Thursday night, despite pouring rain and thick fog the show did go on.
Venue: Rainbow Room, on the 65th Floor of 30 Rockefeller Plaza. By far one of the classiest locations in New York or any city to stage an event. Actually, two rooms were set aside for Crown Media's showcase: The multi-level main space with purple-lighted ceiling, sparkling drapes on the windows and the famed rotating dance floor in the middle, and the Gallery Room next door for pre- and post-dinner receptions. "Good to be here not dressed as a reindeer," remarked Ed Georger, Executive Vice President Advertising Sales and Digital Media, referring to his participation in a photo taken last year mid-snowstorm.
Presentation: As other networks see their ratings drop and alter their programming focus to bounce back, Crown Media's trio of linear services -- Hallmark Channel, Hallmark Movies & Mysteries and Hallmark Drama -- continue to flourish with family appropriate lineups. "People want a comprehensive viewing experience," Georger declared. "That's why our brand identity is stronger than ever." Plus, because of the assortment of content -- largely original movies -- geared to special occasions from Christmas to weddings, viewers are coming to Hallmark Channel in record numbers year-round, added Crown Media Chief Executive Bill Abbott. As a result, Hallmark's new motto (taking a cue from ESPN) is "the worldwide leader in celebrations." Two well-produced videos supplemented this talking point while stressing brand safety. One featured scenes around the country, the other spotlighted coverage of Crown Media's channels on other TV networks.
News: Countdown to Christmas, Hallmark's annual marathon of yuletide-themed movies and specials, will turn 10 years old this December. A record number of original movies will premiere, and together with Hallmark Movies & Mysteries, more than 4,400 hours of first-run programming will play that month. Christmas Where You Are, adapted from a popular song running on Hallmark's Sirius XM Radio channel, will be among the new movies to debut. Hallmark Movies & Mysteries will have launched five new multi-movie elements of its "mystery wheel" format by the end of the year, including Chronicle Mysteries with Allison Sweeney (pictured below) and Picture-Perfect Mysteries with Alexa and Carlos PenaVega. Separately, Hallmark Drama (now available in 20 million households) will enter the first-run series world this fall with a pair of unscripted miniseries, Project Christmas Joy: Alabama (town residents generate a holiday gathering) and Christmas Cookie Countdown (baking competition with Hallmark Channel talent as judges).
Hosts: Abbott and Georger came off smooth and on point, accompanied by testimonials from Sweeney, the PenaVegas and other on-camera personalities. Best testimonial award goes to The Good Witch co-star James Denton (pictured at center and on screens), who was in the ad sales business before the acting bug hit big. "I loved the business, but couldn't take the pressure," he acknowledged. "Now I'm much happier and asking agencies for money again."
Star Time: Return performance engagement for John Ondrasik (a.k.a. Five for Fighting), whose original songs were a highlight of Crown Media's 2016 Upfront event. Ondrasik's four-song set to solo piano was inventive and inspiring, with his 17-year-old daughter Olivia at his side for "I Just Love You." Great storytelling between the songs. Also in the spotlight all night long: dogs up for adoption at North Shore Animal League. They loved mingling with attendees and celebrities alike.
Data Insight: For the third year in a row, Hallmark Channel was the No. 1 network during October-December among women 18-49 and 25-54. And for 2018, Countdown to Christmas out-rated the broadcast networks for nine weeks in a row.
Innovative Opportunity: Sponsorship and community outreach initiatives with Adoption Ever After, Hallmark Channel's ongoing campaign to find new homes for pets, involving segments on Home & Family and various specials (Kitten Bowl, Cat Bowl, Hero Dog Rescue, etc.). Nearly 1,000 animals have new owners through Home segments alone. The newest promotional avenue is "Bubbly Sesh," a podcast devoted to Crown Media content, based on a format hosted by Jacklyn Collier and Shawlini Manjunath-Holbrook (known to their fans as "Jacks" and "Shawl"). With over 150 podcasts to their credit, this Millennial duo is a hoot.
Cuisine: Outstanding appetizer and dinner selections. Best eats: roasted black cod over sticky rice cakes and miso glaze; truffle grilled cheese bites and chicken croquette/rice balls. Worst eats: Not a one. Everything was outstanding.
Next up: A+E Networks
Photo credit: E.B. Moss
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