Thanksgiving is still about a month away, but at the Lifetime cable network, it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas.
The A+E Networks-backed outlet on Friday launched its annual “It’s A Wonderful Lifetime” holiday-movie extravaganza, which puts 1200 hours of content appropriate to the season on its schedule across ten weeks. But good cheer (and soapy stories of the sort for which Lifetime is known) aren’t going to be enough.
To make sure the network keeps viewers engaged, executives have enlisted a bevy of advertisers as well as celebrity home expert Sandra Lee to take part in tailored vignettes slated to show up in promo and commercial breaks; enlisted some of its top stars to take part in virtual live events; tapped Fran Drescher and others to take over Thursday’s 8 p.m. movie with a bingo game that asks viewers to play along at home and gives them a chance to see sneak peaks from coming weekend attractions; and struck marketing partnerships with Mrs. Fields cookies and Kelly Rowland’s JustFab to help get the word out. Rowland’s 2019 Lifetime movie, “Merry Liddle Christmas,” was one of the network’s most popular offerings.
“We are really making sure we are surrounding the consumer and viewer in every way possible,” says Jara Radom, vice president of consumer marketing and media at Lifetime, in an interview.
Lifetime is one of a number of popular media outlets that turn programing grids over to special holiday fare as the Christmas, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa seasons draw near. The cheery movies and Yuletide themes often draw sizable audiences, along with interest from advertisers. But the competition is fierce. Hallmark Channel, Walt Disney’s Freeform and even AMC Networks’ flagship cable outlet all hold similar holiday marathons. Finding creative ways to feature sponsors and actors can help keep Lifetime viewers from sampling another outlet’s holiday goodies, says Radom.
The holiday movies are typically light and airy, but there’s new reason for TV outlets to take the time more seriously. The coronavirus pandemic is likely to crimp retailers’ ability to hold traditional, physical sales and even events Black Friday, the post-Thanksgiving open to the season’s holiday shopping. What’s more, there are growing concerns about retailers’ ability to ship gifts to consumers’ homes in orderly fashion, given the heavier demand a public forced to stay home is likely to place on e-commerce. Already, Lowe’s, the big home-improvement chain, has launched one-day “cyber steals” and dedicated some effort toward getting gifts for professionals before Thanksgiving.
“Marketers are trying to be smart and get ahead” of any complications they may face round holiday time, notes Peter Olsen, president of ad sales for A+E Networks, in an interview, and appreciate a chance to align commercials with “lighter, happier, joy-filled content” given current events.
A+E has already struck deals with Diageo’s Bailey’s Irish Cream; Shriners Children’s Hospital; Kohl’s; Marathon Petroleum; and Procter & Gamble.
Sandra Lee will host and help create custom content pieces throughout the season, offering viewers a chance to learn more about decorating, baking, giving gifts and finding holiday savings. These vignettes can be supported by a sponsor.
The pact with Mrs. Fields will have the cookie maker feature Lifetime marks on its cookie tins and carriers and on a dedicated page in its catalog. The network will once again sponsor a float in this year’s Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.
Lifetime has also planned a big schedule of virtual events with actors from some of the productions. Moderated panels will take place Fridays at 5 p.m. eastern and offer behind-the-scenes content and more. “How do we adjust our thinking in the face of the quarantine?” asks Lance Still, senior vice president of consumer enterprises at A+E Networks, in an interview. We need to take what we are learning and expand on that to create business opportunities we would not have gotten before to engage audiences in a different way.” The first virtual event will take place on October 29.