Add Hallmark Channel to the growing list of networks entering the original programming space. The move into scripted series was “the natural next step in the evolution of our programming,” according to Crown Media president and CEO Bill Abbott. After more than a decade of producing family-friendly original movies, “our audience wanted more." And the numbers are proving that’s true.
Hallmark got its feet wet in the original programming world with “Cedar Cove,” a series based on author Debbie Macomber’s book series of the same name. In its first season, the series has made Hallmark Channel the #1 cable network Saturdays 8-9 pm. It debuted as the top primetime ad-supported movie of the week and day, scoring a 2.4 HH rating with more than 3.8 million unduplicated viewers. The solid ratings prompted a season 2 order, which debuts in 2014.
Cedar Cove has been a bit of a game changer for the network, giving it the confidence to beef up its original line-up even more. Having the network’s first original series “out of the gate” and having it “reach critical mass really speaks volume and our ability to play in the original space,” Abbott told us. Indeed, 2014 is deemed to be an important year for Hallmark Channel’s original play. The plan is to have one new original series going at any given time, with one new episode a week, most likely on Saturdays at 8pm, according to Abbott.
Another milestone in the network’s growth into scripted programming is the order of “Signed, Sealed, Delivered,” which debuts in 2Q, 2014 with 10 one-hour episodes. The series, created, executive produced and written by Martha Williamson, the executive producer of the long-running series “Touch By An Angel,” also marks Williamson’s return to television. The company is exploring opportunities with other “master storytellers” including best-selling author Mary Higgins Clark. Amid competition from the slew of cable networks and streaming services like Netflix doing originals, the key is to be different, Abbott said.
It’s true that the original scripted space will be crowded in 2014. In addition to the usual suspects, such as AMC, Showtime and HBO, a new entrant to the original scripted game is Sundance Channel. It renewed its first wholly owned original scripted series “Rectify” to 10 new eps slated to air next year. The network is also expanding its scripted programming group, adding execs like Christian Vesper and Jordan Helman to development team. Even non-profit BYUtv is looking to gain from original scripted content: It booked a second season of “Granite Flats,” the network’s first original scripted drama series. The network’s first foray into the space “surpassed all of our expectations, and Granite Flats has attracted more viewers than any other program in the network’s history,” said Derek Marquis, executive producer and Managing Director of BYUtv.
With Hallmark Channel, advertisers are buying the idea. Developing original series has allowed the network to significantly increase CPM and attract first time advertisers in new categories including automotive, Abbott said. And the company is on track to meet its revenue goals for the year.