Crown Media Predicts 20% Rise in Hallmark Upfront Take

'Upfront' highlights include new series from 'Touched by an Angel' creator Martha Williamson

Can the former executive producer of landmark CBS series “Touched by an Angel” produce a halo effect for the fortunes of Crown Media’s Hallmark cable networks?

Armed with proof of new investment in original programming, executives from the media company, which has one of the smaller presences on the cable landscape, predicted a surge of interest from sponsors in scripted dramas from Hallmark and the soon-to-be-rechristened Hallmark Movies & Mysteries.

Ed Georger, Crown Media’s exec veep of ad sales and digital media, said he anticipated a 20% increase in advertiser commitments for the coming upfront, the annual market when U.S. networks try to sell the bulk of their ad inventory for the coming season.

“Advertisers are putting a higher value on original content and a higher value on original family programming,” he said. In Crown Media’s most recent fourth quarter, advertising revenue increased 17% over the year-earlier period to $97.3 million, largely, the company said,  on the strength of ratings on Hallmark Channel and robust pricing on Hallmark Movie Channel.

The company greenlit two series for Hallmark Channel. “Chesapeake Shores” is set to debut in 2015 and is based on author Sherryl Woods’  10-part book series of the same name. Meanwhile, “Signed, Sealed, Delivered” comes from creator and executive producer Martha Williamson, the creative force behind long-running CBS hit “Touched by an Angel.” The series marks Williamson’s return to TV after a  decade-long absence and her show will appear in the same Sunday 8 p.m. timeslot as “Angel” did many years ago.

“The audience for ‘Angel’ is still out there, and they have children of their own,” Williamson said. Valerie Bertinelli, who joined “Angel” in its last two seasons on CBS, will have a guest-starring role.

With the debut of those two series, Hallmark Channel will have four original primetime series on its air, a fact Bill Abbott, president and CEO of Crown Media Networks, took time to highlight. Going forward, the emphasis on both networks will be on commissioning series, not always on acquiring older ones, he said, suggesting 75% of the company’s programming budget would be invested in original fare.

That said, the bulk of Hallmark’s schedule consists of programs such as “Golden Girls,” “I Love Lucy” and “Cheers,” with the original series slotted mainly on weekends.

Crown Media intends to extend an effort it has with packing the days before Christmas with original holiday-themed fare to both Valentine’s Day and Mothers’ Day, executives said. And the network will attempt to extend a cute effort made around a kitten-themed alternative to the Super Bowl to summertime, with a “Paw Star Game” slated to debut in summer 2015.

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