Crown pres/CEO Henry Schleiff will be pushing for more from operators as the company enters into renewal negotiations for Hallmark Channel (agreements for approximately 80% of the net’s sub base expire prior to or on Dec 31, ’07). As Roger Ailes pushes a reported $1 per sub fee for Fox News, “tell him to sign up Hallmark also,” quips Schleiff, adding that in a perfect world similarly rated nets would be paid the same. No, he doesn’t really expect to pull in a buck a sub, but he does want “the proverbial fair increase.” No word on what that is, but it does include “proper channel positioning, proper carriage,” etc, he says. Wed’s hiring announcement confirms weeks of chatter that former Court TV CEO Schleiff would soon take the reins at Hallmark, with even Schleiff joking that it was one of cable’s worst-kept secrets. But CableFAX last week was first to report that Hallmark had put a serious offer on the table (Cfax, 9/25). The net has seen a surge in ratings but carries with it a substantial amount of debt, making those contract renewals all the more important. Schleiff’s message for distributors is that Hallmark’s viewers are the bill payers in the family-which he says makes the net a unique asset for driving subs to ancillary services like phone and HSD. “It makes no secret of appealing to an older demo, and therein lies its value,” he said. While Schleiff admires Hallmark’s average older viewer’s buying power, he does want to shave a few years off the median demo of about 59. “Right now, it’s a little bit older than it should be for maximizing advertising revenue,” he said. Other plans include bolstering the brand. “Hallmark is literally the seal of Good Housekeeping when it comes to television. I think that’s been an underexploited opportunity,” said Schleiff, suggesting more cross-promotion with Hallmark Gold Crown stores and more local ad sales opportunities with cable ops. As for programming, Schleiff says he wants more original fare and more seasonal programming-suggesting Hallmark may target more women viewers. Schleiff replaces David Evans, who left at the end of May after Crown failed to find a buyer for Hallmark Channel. Schleiff started the gig this week and will remain headquartered in NY (with frequent trips to the West Coast). “I’m a NY guy,” he said. “I love playing around in my Michael’s (restaurant) and seeing my advertisers.”

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The first College Football Playoff rankings will be exclusively revealed on ESPN on Nov 24 at 7pm. — HBO Max picked up the six-part documentary series “Inside the Life of Superstar Nicki Minaj.” –

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