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How Hallmark’s Christmas Movies Took Over Television

We’re often told that we’re in a “Golden Age” of television, with more quality offerings than we can possibly watch, many available all at once for lengthy “binging” of many episodes in a row.

And yet, there are times where it feels like every critically-acclaimed show has the same ingredients, and makes for well-done but not particularly fun viewing: a dark, conflicted protagonist; sudden bursts of horrific violence and lingering trauma; a tangled web of relationships, shocking twists and sudden character deaths,  corrupt authority figures, blurry moral lines, and cynical looks at past eras. Breaking Bad, True Detective, Mad Men, Homeland, Game of Thrones, Westworld, The Americans, The Man in the High Castle, Ray Donovan, Billions, The Walking Dead… everybody’s doing some version of The Sopranos.

Perhaps it shouldn’t be so shocking that there’s still a giant appetite among viewers for the opposite of all this dark and dreary storytelling. And entertainment doesn’t get much lighter or brighter than those Hallmark Christmas movies. From the first Morning Jolt of the week…

How Hallmark’s Christmas Movies Took Over Television

Hopefully your recent holidays were full of family gathering in the kitchen or around the table, presents under the tree, and peace on earth and goodwill towards all men and women, or at least everyone in your family. Or perhaps your recent weeks featured a workaholic young woman falling for the handyman widower who’s rebuilding a small-town orphanage or youth center, a precocious child asking probing questions about your love life, or a man who resembles Ed Asner named “Nick” or “Kris” and who claims to be the real Santa, and you realized you were living in a Hallmark Channel Christmas movie. (I think Mary Katharine Ham put together the most definitive list of clichés.)

What you may not have known is that these syrupy, predictable, quasi-nostalgic picture-perfect romances – it’s a stretch to call most of these romantic comedies – are wildly popular:

Countdown to Christmas, Hallmark Channel’s annual two-month collection of round-the-clock Christmas-themed programming, helped it become the most-watched cable network last month in total day among 18- to 49-year-old and 25- to 54-year-old women.

Its five-night Thanksgiving event, which is always the highest-rated portion of the season, drove the most-watched week in network history across all key demos, culminating in Sunday, Nov. 26, its most-watched day ever among households, all 18- to 49-year-olds and 25- to 54-year-olds, and 25- to 54-year-old women. That night’s original movie, Switched for Christmas, drew 5.2 million total viewers, making it the network’s highest-rated holiday movie this year.

Overall, this year’s Countdown to Christmas is up 4 percent year over year in the 18-49 and 25-54 demos as well as total viewers and households.

It turns out that being “anti-edgy” is working out quite well for the Hallmark channel.

The prime-time audience for Hallmark — which was launched in 2001 — grew 9% in the second quarter of 2017 from a year earlier while its companion channel Hallmark Movies & Mysteries was up 23%, according to Nielsen. Most other major cable channels, such as Freeform (formerly known as ABC Family), TBS, TNT, USA, Disney Channel and Lifetime, all saw declines in that period. Although Hallmark has an older audience — its median age is 58.6 — ad revenue has been on the rise. In the first half of 2017, the flagship network has taken in $190 million in revenue, up 7% from the same period in 2016, according to Standard Media Index. Hallmark is also getting higher prices from advertisers because it has cut the number of commercials running in its programs.

“They’ve been on a roll the past few years,” said Derek Baine, a senior analyst for the media research firm SNL Kagan…

“What would have been considered dark 10 years ago would today be considered middle of the road,” Abbott said. “That allows us to play to the strength of our brand, which is quality and heritage and family friendly, and create a lot of original content for an underserved audience that just does not find it anywhere else.”

At least a few times between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, I relent and the Mrs. and I check in to see how Candice Cameron is doing. Because they’re so formulaic, you more or less know what every character is going to say and what’s going to happen in every scene before it happens. At least one of the romantic leads will be returning for the first time in many years to a picturesque elaborately-decorated small hometown, they’re face a supremely implausible work deadline right around Christmas, they’ll have a best friend who incessantly mentions the handsome carpenter/Christmas tree farmer/amnesiac/reindeer veterinarian who’s restoring the town gazebo/volunteering at a new youth center/going to be a last-minute substitute to be Santa in the town parade… the contrived misunderstandings, the magic mistletoe, the overwrought declarations of lost Christmas spirit… and dear God, so many decorating montages.

Then, after putting up with a Hallmark movie or two, I can change to a real Christmas movie featuring Clark Griswold or John McClane.

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