Hallmark bows 'Watch With Me'

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NEW YORK -- Hallmark Channel on Tuesday unveiled a new public-affairs initiative that will promote family viewing of the types of shows that a new study finds to be in short supply on TV.

The "Watch With Me" campaign will start in May in Washington and will have on-air, online and in-school components. It's being paired with another campaign, "Read With Me," that encourages children to read classic literature that has been adapted for Hallmark Channel such as "Moby Dick" and "Troy."

Hallmark Channel also announced new movies, including "You've Got a Friend" starring John Schneider to premiere June 9; "Claire," featuring a widow (Valerie Bertinelli) who uses her psychic powers to protect her family from a killer; "Son of the Dragon," a three-hour movie starring David Carradine and Rupert Graves that premieres Sept. 1; and "Love's Unfolding Dream," starring Scout Taylor Compton and Patrick Levis about a medical student who must choose between love and career.

The network also will have another episode of the "Murder 101" series titled "If Wishes Were Horses" starring Dick Van Dyke and a December premiere of a holiday movie titled "A Reason to Believe," for which casting has not yet been announced.

Crown Media Holdings president and CEO Henry Schleiff said at a presentation Tuesday in midtown Manhattan that Hallmark Channel was coming into the upfront season with ratings momentum and "unbelievably strong" ad revenue, as the network in April will pass the 80 million subscriber mark.

The channel released the results of a survey of 1,000 adults it commissioned from Yankelovich's the Segmentation Co. The survey found that 81% of viewers want more family-friendly programming on TV but that 48% have to watch TV separately because of content issues. Sixty-three% of parents said their kids can't watch TV unsupervised.

Schleiff said the there's a limited supply of "good, clean, compelling, well-told stories" and that Hallmark Channel was among the top networks producing them. The channel will produce 25 original movies this year, the most ever for the network.

"We know our audience and we know they love movies," programming chief David Kenin said.

The channel also said Tuesday that it will be able to offer integrated packages year-round with Hallmark's 4,200 Gold Crown stores as well as among the 14 million Gold Crown members and on Hallmark.com. Schleiff also said the network was considering a social-network site for Hallmark Channel, though the plans weren't yet firm.

The network hopes to continue to gain double-digit increases in CPMs and sell between 45%-50% of its inventory during the upfront, said Bill Abbott, executive vp advertising sales.

Schleiff said he had been at Hallmark six months, which was a reasonable amount of time to begin discussing a change of the network's name.

"And the name Court TV is available," Schleiff joked about the plans of his former network to change to an as-yet-undisclosed moniker. But he said that channel wasn't going to change its name, though it unveiled a new on-air look March 1.
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