Feel-good shows draw viewers to Hallmark Channel

Hallmark movies and series such as When Calls The Heart (above), about a young socialite who moves into a Canadian frontier town in the 1990s, have happy endings.
Hallmark movies and series such as When Calls The Heart (above), about a young socialite who moves into a Canadian frontier town in the 1990s, have happy endings.PHOTO: CROWN MEDIA

BOSTON • Making viewers feel good is the hallmark of success for the Hallmark Channel.

It was the only non-news channel in the top 15 in the United States to see substantial viewership growth last year.

In November and December, when Hallmark aired Christmas movies almost non-stop, it often ran neck-and-neck with Fox News and ESPN for the title of most-watched television network on basic cable.

Ratings are up another 9 per cent so far this year, Nielsen said.

It is feel-good TV without sex or gore. Hallmark movies and series such as When Calls The Heart and Chesapeake Shores have happy endings with the main characters doing the right thing.

This kind of TV has always drawn in older women, but ratings are growing fast among 18- to 49-year-old women and a growing number of men are tuning in as well.

The few culture magazines that have noticed Hallmark's popularity surge say it is all about production value.

Crown Media, which owns Hallmark, confirms it has been spending a lot more on its movies and shows, but that alone does not explain the big jump in viewership and advertising dollars last year.

"The environment is undeniably contentious. We are a place you can go and feel good," said Mr Bill Abbott, chief executive of Crown.

That is a polite way of saying more and more Americans are turning to Hallmark for relief from the daily news cycle.

It is the complete opposite of the divisiveness that so many families felt during the election and US President Donald Trump's penchant for courting controversy.

Turn on the news and you see people who cannot get along, even in the same party.

Turn on Hallmark and everyone ends the show smiling.

Its ratings have been rising for several years, but started surging in late 2015, right about the time the election - and the Trump phenomenon - took off.

During the week of the election last year, the Hallmark Channel was the fourth-most watched channel on TV during prime time.

The happy formula is working.

The Hallmark Channel and its sister station, Hallmark Movies And Mysteries, are doing so well that Crown just announced it will launch a third channel - Hallmark Drama - on Oct 1.

At a time when pundits are ready to proclaim the death of cable TV, Hallmark is starting up another old-school channel.

That is how much demand Hallmark believes there is for its family- friendly, feel-good shows.

The end of the year is its sweet spot - for viewers and advertising dollars.

It will start running its Countdown To Christmas on Oct 27, with 21 original movies that all have a holiday theme.

Viewers love it. Hallmark claims more than 85 million people watched one of its channels in November and December last year.

Hallmark easily won the ratings race among female viewers during the holidays and was even able to rival powerhouse channels Fox, ESPN and Nickelodeon at times in overall household viewership.

It is now attracting car companies and financial firms as advertisers. That is rare for channels that are perceived as mostly women's networks.

It is also making more of an effort to have non-white actors, although it admits that it has more work to do on diversity.

At Upfronts, a massive convention for TV advertising where network executives gather to try to lure more dollars to their channels, marketing company Adweek noted how relaxed Hallmark executives were.

While many other TV executives were trying to convince advertisers their network was not dying, Hallmark just pointed to the ratings.

And with the immediate future shaping up to be a contentious time for the US both at home and abroad, Hallmark could be posting the happiest financial results.

WASHINGTON POST

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 23, 2017, with the headline 'Feel-good shows draw viewers to Hallmark Channel'. Print Edition | Subscribe