Hallmark, MSLO form program alliance

'Martha Stewart' to exit syndication as exclusive to Hallmark

NEW YORK -- Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia is moving its daily "Martha Stewart Show" out of syndication under a multi-year strategic partnership with the Hallmark Channel that will make original episodes of the program exclusive to the network.
It will serve as anchor of a two-and-a-half-hour MSLO programming block on Crown Media's Hallmark that will start in September.

The news comes after Oprah Winfrey recently announced that her long-running syndicated show will come to an end as she will launch the Oprah Winfrey Network with cable network firm Discovery Communications next year.

In a conference call Tuesday, MSLO founder Martha Stewart and executive chairman Charles Koppelman said syndication had the downside of putting the show on the air at different times in different parts of the country. A fixed time slot and replays of the show at 4 and 5pm later in the day will better serve the company's core demographic, they argued, signalling they hope for better ratings and advertising revenue.

"Syndication has a terrific role to launch new shows" and talent, Koppelman said when asked whether syndication is outdated. But MSLO was focused on "meeting the needs of our viewers," such as working women and stay-at-home mothers.

Stewart said the strategic shift from syndication to cable is in line with the "evolution in the world of television." She told reporters: "I watch a lot of cable these days," and being able to produce more shows in regular time slots on "a really viable home" channel was very appealing. 

"I have been a viewer of Hallmark productions for as long as I can remember," Stewart also said, highlighting that the two partners share such values as family and tradition.

The companies didn't disclose financial aspects of the deal, and executives declined to discuss those on Tuesday's call. But Hallmark Channels president and CEO Bill Abbott said "we are optimistic that this partnership will be beneficial for both sides."

The "Martha Stewart Show" is believed to lose money, but has been key for MSLO to keeping fans exposed to the Martha brand.

For Hallmark, the deal is a coup. Abbott said Stewart had been on the top of his list of personalities and content he has eyed to expand the network's "fresh lifestyle content" and other original fare. He described the partnership as "an ideal match."

Beginning in the fall, Mondays through Fridays, "The Martha Stewart Show," which had so far been syndicated by NBC Universal, will air 10 a.m-11 a.m. (ET/PT), kicking off a two-and-half-hour block of original MSLO programming on Hallmark.

Details of the rest of the programming block aren't set yet, but it will feature experts and personalities from within MSLO, which will also develop holiday and interview specials for prime time on the network.

It remains open for now what will happen to MSLO library shows and a show on Fine Living. Koppelman said Fine Living will continue to air it through June, but it could then end up coming to Hallmark or other networks.

MSLO production "Everyday Food" is scheduled to remain on PBS where it has aired since late 2003, according to executives.