In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, Hector Campos, UPtv's vice president of content strategy, programming and acquisitions, and the UPtv team began putting together their annual Christmas programming extravaganza. Even with production delays across the industry, the network will have five world premiere movies, as well as additional cable premieres and a stocking-full of TV programming like the fifth annual holiday "binge-a-thon" of Gilmore Girls episodes known as GilMORE the Merrier. (Last year's "binge-a-thon" was hosted by Gilmore co-star Scott Patterson, who reminisced about the show in an exclusive interview with MediaVillage.)
In celebration of Gilmore Girls'20th anniversary, this year’s marathon will culminate with the cable premiere of the four Gilmore Girls: Year in the Lifemovies. (Go here for even more exclusive intel on the success UPtv has enjoyed in recent years with its GilMORE the Merrier "binge-a-thons.") All in all, Campos is looking at more than 500 hours of holiday cheer as part of this year’s UPtv Merry Movie Christmas holiday programming extravaganza that runs from November 1 through the end of the year.
"It's all about bringing families together," Campos says. It certainly seems to work. In 2019, 17.7 million people tuned in to watch these frothy dollops of Christmas cheer, according to Nielsen. This year should attract even more viewers for a couple of reasons, Campos states. Some families have been sharing the same space 24/7 for months now and are looking for programming they can not only all watch together, but that feels "special" and can remind them of just how wonderful that time together can be. Other families will be forced to spend the holidays apart and may be looking for ways to salvage holiday traditions, like watching movies "together" in separate homes over video chat.
"We're always looking for new ways to bring fans together," says Campos. "Our fans are family. We want to create an atmosphere in which they can feel connected with the network, talent and other fans."
The world premiere movies this year include A Very Country Christmas Homecoming (pictured above), Mistletoe Magic and Christmas on the Range. The Country Christmas series of films, of which this year's installment is the third, has proved a massive hit for the network, and Campos is looking forward to fans discovering newbies like Dashing Home for Christmas (pictured below).
One of the UPtv Merry Movie Christmas films having its cable premiere, Christmas at Rosemont, was originally acquired by UP Entertainment’s SVOD service, UP Faith and Family. The movie was part of a "Christmas in July" event, and Campos noticed that it was not only doing gangbusters on the platform during the event but kept cracking the top 10 well after. "We said, 'Well, there may be something to this, let's see if we can get it onto the network,'" Campos explains.
Some of the original movies had completed filming before the coronavirus hit, but others were fully filmed during the pandemic. The resulting movies are a combination of luck, determination and ingenuity on the part of the production companies, which implemented strict guidelines to ensure the safety of their casts and crews. "We're quite pleased with the quality as well as the amount," Campos says.
With so many premieres in the offing, it's the perfect time for UPtv to launch My UPtv Movies, the network's movie tracker app. The app will allow fans to get alerts when their favorite movies are airing and add calendar reminders.
My UPtv Movies, along with the premiere-packed Christmas season and the 26 other original movies that premiered in 2020, are signifiers of a sea change at UPtv. The Atlanta-based network has partnered with a production company in Los Angeles to make original programming for UPtv -- a whole slate of movies, with the goal of one premiere a week. (UP Entertainment CEO Charley Humbard earlier this year spoke with MediaVillage about that new programming partnership.)
This ramping up of original movies to premiere year-round is a newer direction for the network, but one that Campos is committed to. "We have all this acquired programming that we know is resonating with viewers, with movies like Legally Blonde and shows like Reba, but we also know that originals are the differentiator," says Campos. By partnering with production companies, UPtv gets more of a say in the development of these originals. As the experts in what their audience wants, this kind of participation in development is crucial to building an inventory of hits.
Creating that inventory is more important than ever as the pandemic continues and people keep searching for new content to watch. But it's not just about the pandemic. "Wildfires, hurricanes, politics -- there's a lot going on," Campos notes. "People are looking for not just an escape, but for kindness and thoughtfulness on their TVs. We invite viewers to come to UPtv to be uplifted and entertained as we celebrate Christmas together."
It's a strategy that has paid off. Not only were last year's Christmas movies a huge success, but ratings for UPtv's uplifting programming have been increasing sharply over the last three quarters including moving up 10 positions among all ad supported cable networks in third quarter.
According to Campos, "Christmas is going to cap off a good, productive year."
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