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Cabler predicting record upfront ad sales

The Hallmark Channel is on track to harvest more than $110 million from advertisers in the upfront sales season, a record yield and 40% higher than last year’s.

That’s the prediction of Bill Abbott, exec VP of national ad sales for the Hallmark Channels, who said the money would come from 150 separate advertiser deals, including 25 clients who have not bought spots on the network before.

Abbott made the predictions at a breakfast meeting Tuesday in New York that was set up to give reporters a preview of Hallmark Channel’s upfront presentation.

Also at the meeting, Dave Kenin, exec VP of programming for Hallmark Channel and its Hallmark Movie Channel sibling, said he has greenlit two more movies, adding to four already filmed for the three rotating “Friday Night Mystery Movie” franchises: “Mystery Woman” with Kellie Martin; “McBride” starring John Larroquette; and “Jane Doe” with Lea Thompson.

Counting these mysteries, Hallmark plans to commission as many as 25 movies in the next year. That’s more original movies than any other cable net in the U.S. except for Lifetime, which promises a brand-new pic every Monday.

Abbott said 14 of the Hallmark movies will play “between Memorial Day and Labor Day,” a record number of summer originals for the network. These family-oriented movies have drawn more viewers to Hallmark every year since it opened for business in August 2001.

Skeins in vain

Despite all of these fresh pics, Kenin said he’s not yet ready to take the leap into developing scripted original series.

“Throwing a lot of money at series development is pretty risky,” said David Evans, prexy-CEO of Hallmark Channels, particularly since Hallmark Channel reaches only 67.7 million subscribers, compared with the 88 million average of general-entertainment rivals like TNT, USA, Nick at Nite and Lifetime. (Hallmark is nevertheless the second-fastest-growing network in basic cable, adding 10.1 million customers in the last year. In first place is Great American Country, which took on 11.26 million.)

Off-network series and theatrical movies are still an important part of Hallmark’s programming mix, Kenin said, citing the solid ratings “Judging Amy” and “Walker, Texas Ranger” are chalking up, with “JAG” reruns joining the schedule in the fall.

Abbott said Hallmark has built up an immunity to the toxic climate of Federal Communications Commission crackdowns on TV programming because “advertisers never have to worry about screening our shows in advance for negative content.”

The demand for advertising time in Hallmark shows will come this year from homevideo/DVD distributors, electronics companies, makers of imported autos, beverages, insurance companies and retail stores, Abbott said.

On the flipside, he continued, the ad budgets of packaged-goods companies will be flat, and domestic autos and pharmaceuticals will be down from the previous year.

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