It has been more than a year since new leaders took the helm at Crown Media Family Networks, the company responsible for programming at Hallmark Channel, Hallmark Movies and Mysteries, and the streaming platform Hallmark Movies Now.
Since then, viewers have seen some changes in programming. The Hallmark Channel included a same-sex romance in Season 7 of its series Good Witch, which was then canceled in July.
Several of the movies in this year’s Countdown to Christmas event have included same-sex storylines, and the network followed up last year’s Love, Lights, Hanukkah with Eight Gifts of Hanukkah.
But the biggest changes are yet to come, according to Lara Richardson, Crown Media’s chief marketing officer.
In an interview with Brand Innovators, Richardson said the networks will soon see a “brand refresh,” with even more diverse storylines and movies.
“Over the last year, I really took a look at a couple of things,” Richardson said. “…One was lifting some of the creative restrictions that frankly were self-imposed, and taking a look at some things where we could stop, start and continue from a creative standpoint.”
The results will be more evident in the network’s series’ coming seasons, according to Richardson, who likened the new approach to “coming in with a fresh coat of lipstick.”
Change and controversy
Crown Media found itself in the spotlight in December 2019, when the network ran an ad for the wedding registry site Zola that featured two women kissing.
It was soon targeted by the group One Million Moms, who got 25,000 people to sign a petition demanding the ad get pulled. Hallmark informed Zola that its remaining six ads would not air, saying the same-sex kiss violated company policy.
The network then found itself under siege from LGBTQ+ advocates, including Ellen DeGeneres.
The network reversed its decision, aired the commercials, and released the following statement, “The Crown Media team has been agonizing over this decision as we’ve seen the hurt it has unintentionally caused. Said simply, they believe this was the wrong decision. We are truly sorry for the hurt and disappointment this has caused.”
Abbott left the network in January 2020 and was replaced in July by Wonya Lucas, former president and CEO of Public Broadcasting Atlanta and COO of the Discovery Channel.
Lucas was quick to tell people the networks would be including more diversity in their programming.
“Before I arrived, we had begun to expand our brand inclusiveness in front of and behind the camera,” Lucas said in one of her first statements as CEO. “I’m proud of the progress this team is making to expand diversity in our programming and it is nothing short of seismic.”
In July, Crown Media announced it would adapt its Mahogany line of greeting cards, marketed to African American consumers, into a series of films.
But even bigger changes are on the way, according to Richardson.
Focus on love
Crown Media is in a unique position because it has a loyal fan base built-in, Richardson said.
Hallmark Channel was the 12th most-watched network of 2020, according to Nielsen ratings, beating out Bravo (22nd), AMC (29th), and Comedy Central (50th).
During October, the first month of Christmas programming for 2021, Hallmark was the most-watched cable network, according to Nielsen ratings.
To stay successful, Crown Media plans on continuing with its staples — uplifting, heartfelt dramas and romantic comedies — while embracing the aspect of the brand that resonates most with audiences, according to Richardson.
“It’s really about the human connection and connecting with each other and being in a place of joy and happiness rather than negativity,” she said. “That is what we do here at Hallmark, where we’re about putting love and positivity into the world.”
Countdown to Christmas continues on Hallmark Channel and Miracles of Christmas continues on Hallmark Movies and Mysteries through the end of December.