A Crown jewel falls

Hallmark Channel selling int'l network biz

The Hallmark Channel is putting its international network businesses on the block.

Crown Media, the parent of Hallmark Channel, announced Tuesday that it intends to shift all of its focus to the U.S. network.

The foreign operations up for sale include satellite-delivered networks in 100 overseas markets reaching 57 million subscribers, plus satellite offices in the U.K., Australia and Hong Kong.

A spokeswoman said the company has put no specific timetable on the sale, adding that it’s too early to predict which companies might be interested in tendering an offer.

The U.S. Hallmark Channel is on a roll, having pumped up its sub count on cable and satellite TV by 7.3 million in the last year to a total of 58.6 million.

Its programming has generated double-digit Nielsen growth in the first quarter in the key demos of adults 18-49, 25-54 and 18-34.

Hallmark Channel commissions a substantial number of original movies and miniseries but it also spends more money for programming than any other network of its size; Kagan World Media said Hallmark will spend $54 million to buy and produce TV shows in 2004.

Hallmark schedules only programming that’s family-friendly, making its spots particularly salable to advertisers. The rate of ad sales have shot up by 42% in the last year; the network is predicting another sharp hike in ad revenues from the 2004-05 upfront marketplace.

The need to cut costs is nothing new to Hallmark: In late 2002, it fired 30% of its workforce and scaled back its extensive overseas sales and distribution activities.

In its recent 10K annual financial disclosures, Hallmark acknowledged that its international sub rates were likely to fall this year as the channel renewed distribution agreements at lower sub rates, partly due to the “increasing competitive nature of the industry,” and the shift from sub-fee revenue to ad revenue in its more developed markets.

(John Dempsey in New York contributed to this report.)

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