Hallmark’s Loesch bids adieu; Corbi new chief

Exec wants to 'smell the roses for a while'

Margaret Loesch has resigned as founding president and CEO of Crown Media U.S., after guiding Crown’s Hallmark Channel to a base of 40 million subscribers and to a lineup of high-visibility reruns of TV series, movies and miniseries.

Her successor is Lana Corbi, who moves from chief operating officer of parent Crown Media Holdings.

“I’ve achieved all of my goals, and now I’m exhausted,” said Loesch, who will leave at the expiration of her contract in six weeks. “I want to smell the roses for a while and spend more time with my 13-year-old son.”

In addition to the 40 million households now getting the Hallmark Channel, Loesch emphasized her commitment to original programming, such as a series of four original Sherlock Holmes movies, starring Matt Frewer as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s sleuth, and the six-hour “Infinite Worlds of H.G. Wells” miniseries produced by Hallmark Entertainment.

She also pointed to a big increase in ad revenues for Hallmark this year, despite the worse upfront market in more than a decade, a tribute not only to the steady jump in Nielsen ratings generated by better programming, but also the climb in status from that of emerging network (when it was known as the Odyssey Channel) to mainstream outlet.

Hallmark Channel’s projected net ad revenue will shoot up from $26 million in 2001 to $50 million in 2002, according to Kagan World Media. Hallmark’s income from cable-operator license fees will go up from $19.9 million in 2001 to $27 million in 2002.

On the spending side, Hallmark expects to lay out $60 million for rerun and original programming in 2001 and $70 million in 2002.

“The foundation of the network is already there,” Corbi said. “My job is to build on it.”

But Hallmark has its work cut out for it. Even though its ratings have grown throughout the last year, it still averaged only a 0.4 rating in primetime for the three summer months of 2001, putting it in a tie for 34th place among all ad-supported cable networks. In total-day ratings, Hallmark managed only a tie for 36th place.

And unlike MTV, Turner and ESPN/Disney Channel, which own lots of different cable networks, Hallmark is a stand-alone, forcing it to pay big bucks to get a cable operator to give it space on the most widely circulated analog tier.

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