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Crown Media CEO: Hallmark Drama to reach 10 million linear homes at end of Q1'18

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Crown Media CEO: Hallmark Drama to reach 10 million linear homes at end of Q1'18

With launches on a number of smaller systems and other deals pending, Hallmark Drama is expected to be in some 5 million homes by year-end.

Bill Abbott, CEO of Crown Media Family Networks, which also operates Hallmark Channel (US) and Hallmark Movies & Mysteries (US), said in an interview that Hallmark Drama has also reached agreements in principle with "a couple of fairly big operators" and other smaller distributors.

Abbott said that after the deals are finalized, Hallmark Drama, which launched Oct. 1 showcasing movies and series from the company’s library of original dramatic content, as well as some exclusive original programming, will roll out to a minimum of 5 million linear homes in 2017. The total is expected to reach the 10 million mark by the close of the first quarter of 2018, according to Abbott.

The launch comes at a time when the linear subscriber universe is shrinking as consumers look to reduce their monthly video programming bills via smaller bundles, while others are moving to virtual MVPD offerings from DISH Network Corp.'s Sling TV or AT&T Inc.'s DIRECTV Now, among others, or cutting the cord entirely in favor of over-the-top services from Netflix Inc. or Amazon.com Inc.'s Prime Video.

Abbott said the company has been able to forge the new service thanks to its experience of offering quality, family-friendly content that is non-duplicative to its established channels, and because it doesn’t come to market with the wide swath of networks offered by other programming groups.

As it continues to work on expanding the subscriber base for Hallmark Drama, Crown Media Family Networks is also gearing up to enter the OTT arena later this month with a broader-based, subscription video on demand service. Hallmark Movies Now, priced at $5.99 on a monthly basis and $59.95 annually, will feature some 800 to 1000 hours of programming not available on the three linear channels.

Positioned as a hybrid service, Hallmark Movies Now will be marketed directly to non-pay TV subscribers, and is also available to linear distributors to add to their offerings.

Originally scheduled to launch earlier this month, the SVOD product is now slated to launch no later than Oct. 23. "We wanted to be careful to ensure that the user experience is first-rate," said Abbott, noting the service is being "stress-tested" for quality and capacity to accommodate simultaneous streaming.

Hallmark Movies Now is being supported by a proprietary system, developed by Hallmark Labs in Santa Monica, Calif. "It’s been built from the ground up," said Abbott, adding that over the long-term, it will be 'better for us" as the service scales.

Although Hallmark Movies Now is also being made available to distributors to add to their offerings, he said there are technical and capacity issues to "take on with a product like this." Abbott said the service won’t be marketed through any extant affiliates at launch.

On the programming front, production began Oct. 11 on docu-series "Meet The Peetes," following the lives of actress and activist Holly Robinson Peete and her husband, Rodney Peete, a former NFL quarterback. Set to air on Sunday nights beginning Feb. 18, the show will also center on their daughter, who is away at college, and their autistic son, who believes he’s ready to leave home.

With the addition of "Meet The Peetes" to a series lineup that also includes "When Calls The Heart"; "Chesapeake Shores," which concluded its sophomore campaign Oct. 8; and "The Good Witch," the programmer will cut its overall original telefilm output from 95 to 93 in 2019. Eighty-nine are on tap in 2018.

This year’s fall movie lineup on Hallmark Channel is delivering good numbers, with "Harvest Love" and "All of My Heart: Inn Love" ranking as the most-watched entertainment shows on cable the weeks ended Oct. 1 and Oct. 8, respectively.

"That’s only the beginning. I think you’ll see the numbers get higher," said Abbott, alluding to the company's annual holiday programming gambit, which this season will encompass 21 new Christmas-themed telefilms on Hallmark Channel and a dozen on Hallmark Movies & Mysteries.

He pointed to "A Bramble House Christmas" on Hallmark Mysteries & Movies, and "The Christmas Train" and "Enchanted Christmas" on Hallmark Channel as original movies that are expected to perform well this holiday season. "The Christmas Train" is a Hallmark Hall of Fame presentation, while Abbott said that "Enchanted Christmas," featuring real-life married couple Alexa and Carlos PenaVega, could appeal to a younger audience. Hallmark Channel’s core audience is women 25 to 54.