Crown Media’s Chad Harris on Helping Viewers Find the Feel-Good Everywhere

By Hallmark Media InSites Archives
Cover image for  article: Crown Media’s Chad Harris on Helping Viewers Find the Feel-Good Everywhere

Crown Media Family Networks, parent company to Hallmark Channel, Hallmark Movies & Mysteries and Hallmark Drama, received an early Christmas gift this year with the news in November that its foray into the SVOD world, Hallmark Movies Now, had surpassed 500K subscribers.  Since that time, the holiday cheer continued, with even more growth on Hallmark’s three networks courtesy of their hugely popular seasonal-themed programming events and a significant boost among SVOD subscribers, now surpassing 600K.  “A big thing that makes it successful for us, and something we've seen on the linear platforms and with this service, is that it’s not just the content itself, it's the environment that we create around it,” Chad Harris, Senior Vice President of New Media and Innovation at Crown Media Family Networks told MediaVillage in a recent interview.  “It's very specific,” he continued.  “It’s something we hear from fans over and over again.  It’s a place they can escape to, have an uplifting experience and come out feeling better about the world.  We attribute a lot of that success [to the fact that] we all need it.”

Harris has worked in a variety of positions within Crown Media since joining the company in 1999, originally as a producer for the Hallmark Channel creative services team.  In addition to implementing and successfully launching the SVOD service, Harris oversees digital platforms, home entertainment and the newly launched Hallmark Publishing, which includes digital, print and audiobooks, collectively maintaining a current annual output of 17 books per year.

With television viewers receiving their content in a continually evolving way, and more people joining the ranks of cord-cutters, Crown Media Family Networks finds itself in an enviable market position with regard to growth.  Hallmark Channel’s Countdown to Christmas franchise and Hallmark Movies & Mysteries’ Miracles of Christmas event continue to amass huge ratings that beat all other networks in Q4 among W18-49 and W25-54.  With Hallmark Movies Now, for either $5.99 a month or an annual subscription of $59.99 “Hallmarkies” (as members of the networks’ vast online community are known) can have access to the massive Hallmark library of content at their fingertips.  And with new original programming soon to be rolled out on the service, having Hallmark Movies Now could soon become an added necessity for any Hallmark devotee.

“We're seeing a mix as far as the way people get the service,” said Harris.  “Some people want to try the service before committing, while others are already committed and know they want that experience all year round and have opted for the annual subscription.”

For more insight into the service and what’s in store for its future, read our exclusive interview with Harris below.

Steve Gidlow:  Since launching in October 2017, you just celebrated 500K subscriptions for Hallmark Movies Now.  To what do you attribute that rapid growth?

Chad Harris: The service has been received better than we ever expected.  Since making our announcement in November we’ve added more than 100K new subs. That actually takes us to over 600K subscribers. I think one reason is that we really know our viewers and make all our decisions based on making the audience happy -- everything from the design to the content itself.  People are looking for things that make them feel good these days and something they can rely on and that’s something we have consistently delivered. Whether our subscribers are cable subscribers who just want more Hallmark or cord-cutters, we universally get the same response when we talk to our audience.  We do focus groups about every quarter, and the thing we hear is that Hallmark Movies Now provides them with an on-demand opportunity to enjoy heartwarming content, which is exactly what we aim to deliver every time they interact with the service.

Gidlow:  Given the hundreds of hours of content already available via Hallmark Channel, Hallmark Movies & Mysteries and Hallmark Drama, and individual cable provider on-demand options, why the need for an SVOD service?

Harris: The impetus for getting into this platform [was that] no one really knows where television is headed.  We appreciate viewing habits are changing so we really wanted to put ourselves in the position to evolve with the market.  Wherever viewers want to be is where we want to be, so we were very thoughtful about how we approached the space.  We are in an enviable position because our linear business has never been better with our three channels, so we weren't looking for a replacement for traditional television in any sense.  We approached Hallmark Movies Now as an additive service for the people that love our content. We are seeing a seemingly endless appetite for the content we create, so we kind of came at the market for this with two different targets of people -- the Hallmark super-fans who just want more content they currently get via the linear channels and the cord-cutters who still want that Hallmark experience in the OTT space.  If they're making that choice we want to be the ones to deliver that content.

Gidlow:  Were there challenges in raising product awareness of the SVOD, while staying on brand and making it known the service was available?

Harris:  The challenges are really getting used to the unique nature and cadence in running a direct-to-consumer business.  It's a different kind of business and there's a different way to approach it, like customer acquisition and customer retention, user journeys and product UX (user experience).  They are all very different types of concepts from our traditional model so we're still learning every day.  The easy part was we know our brand and our audience so well, that any decisions [made] are automatically run through the brand filter.  We don't ever feel like we’re asking ourselves, ‘Is this on brand?’  The tougher part is living up to customer expectations from a brand like Hallmark, [one] built on quality, so there is a lot to live up to.  That's a bar we've set for ourselves and has also been set for us by our audience.

Gidlow:  You also provide your own branded programming events, in addition to those on the linear networks, creating a unique experience for the SVOD consumer.

Harris:  We try to take the practices already learned and adjust them for this new platform.  We have the benefit of seeing the power of seasonal and thematic programming and we've carried some of that into the SVOD space.  We have monthly themed events based on the time of year, or around new content we have coming into the service.  Movies & Mistletoe, our Christmas event, lines up with what's happening on the linear side.  We have New Year, New Beginnings [coming up] with lots of new content in addition to rollouts of new series, the addition of new movies and specials, and acquisitions we believe work for the service.  It's important to mention that this is an additive service and in no way a replacement.  Because we produce close to a hundred new movies every year we have a good pipeline of proven branded content continually coming in.

Gidlow:  Will the SVOD platform also offer original content?

Harris:  One of the things we are excited about is the upcoming premiere of an original series When Hope Calls, based on our hit show When Calls the Heart.  It makes Hallmark Movies Now a separate place to take great storylines like those on When Calls the Heart, with a huge fan base, and expand them in an entirely new direction.  We're not taking any favorites away from When Calls the Heart, but you will see the characters from Hopepassing through Heart to help carry them over into the new show.  It will give fans a whole new experience.

Gidlow:  Are you utilizing the space for Hallmark brand advertising?

Harris: Right now, the service is advertisement free with the subscription.  We’re looking at the marketplace and seeing all sorts of different models in terms of being ad-supported or partially supported.  We know fans of both Hallmark Channel and Movies & Mysteries have subscribed to Hallmark Movies Now, so on occasion, we’ll do some cross-promotion as more of a service to the customer to advise what's coming up from Hallmark.

Gidlow:  Might the platform become user-interactive?  Hallmark devotees really seem to enjoy interacting on social media spaces like Twitter.

Harris:  Our behind-the-scenes team is coming up with some fun ideas so that’s something constantly under review.

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