Here is a paper submitted for Media and Culture class, presented here before grading.
Carolyn Hasenfratz Winkelmann
Dr. Amanda Staggenborg
MEDC 5310.01: Media and Culture
12 November 2019
What is the Hallmark Channel Selling?
People tend to consume culture that is in accordance with their own attitudes, values and behaviors (Silverblatt et al. 97). If a media product gains a wide audience by appealing to the cultural norms of a large number of people, it becomes an example of popular culture (Silverblatt et al. 97).
During the week of November 20, 2017, the Hallmark Countdown to Christmas subscriber television programming was the highest rated for women in the age ranges 18-49 and 25-54 (Rosa). Hallmark put 16 more new Christmas movies into production in 2018 than 2017 (Rosa), indicating that the channel’s popularity was expected to rise even more.
Back in 2003, the Hallmark Channel was ranked 22nd. It saw itself as family friendly, “Main Street and mainstream”, with potential to become a much more powerful and popular network (Umstead). Also in 2003, the Hallmark Channel’s executive vice president of worldwide marketing and brand strategy also found the concept of “owning holidays” appealing as the channel started timing its programming to follow the holiday oriented calendar of the Hallmark brand’s retail stores (Forkan).
Hallmark stores are in the business of selling a variety of gift products that carry emotional messages (Ferrante-Schepis). On the Hallmark Channel, now one of several channels owned by Crown Media Family Networks which is in turn owned by Hallmark Cards, Inc. (About Hallmark Channel), the emotional messages support the brand and are also part of the product.
To be successful, marketers need to understand the values that their customers hold and celebrate during the holidays. Christmas consumers are moved by traditions and holiday memories (Knaub-Hardy 119-121). Other than just commerce and commercialism, many people celebrate by attending worship services and are conscious of promoting joy, love, community and kindness to others (Meredith). Typically celebrants engage in a lot of family activities such as parties, family portraits and school concerts (Stirland 22). The Hallmark brand has been around long enough that it has become a holiday tradition in its own right (Danailova 184).
The Hallmark Channel audience is about 70% female and about 30% male (Hallmark Channel CEO…) with a median age of 58.6 (Battaglio). Bill Abbot, CEO of Crown Media Family Networks, aims to appeal to viewers who are under served by an industry that in the main produces content that features violence, sex and controversy to court young viewers and the affluent audiences that are found in large cities (Battaglio).
Many Hallmark movie plots center around a woman who lives in a big city and has a stressful career (Battaglio). There are few people of color in most casts, a frequent criticism that the channel has acknowledged and is gradually taking steps to correct (Ellenbogen). The protagonist usually finds fulfillment by moving to a small town and engaging in romance with a supportive man that sometimes helps her solve her problems (Battaglio). There are holiday activities we associate with stereotypical All-American small town values and the plots make sure these endeavors include lots of consumption, such as gift giving, wrapping, food crafting and decorating (Battaglio). It makes sense to combine Christmas and romance together because the romantic ideal world view embraces Truth, Love, Beauty, Faith and Justice (Silverblatt et al. 109), values that work well in either context or both together.
Many critics have examined the implications of the popularity of these formula driven movies from feminist and political points of view. Some analysts think the movies make a pro-feminist statement while others are of the opinion that the values celebrated in the movies are a throwback to times when women had more constrained roles in society. Sometimes the movies are praised for giving viewers a respite from exhausting politicized content, and they also invite criticism from others for not including controversial or political messages.
The choice by Crown Media to attempt to avoid controversy is deliberate (Hallmark Channel CEO…). Referring back to the company’s direction in 2003, Crown Media appears to have kept its goal of “owning a holiday” firmly in mind (Forkan). Consumers who are motivated by thoughts of nostalgia, tradition and the better parts of human nature are assumed to respond negatively to programming that reminds them of how different the real world is from their ideal vision. People also reject content that is offensive to their most deeply held values (Silverblatt et al. 97).
Moving to the country has been a cherished American fantasy for a long time. When the United States was founded, many of the architects of the new nation idealized farming (Wolf). In the 1950s, when television first became the dominant form of media, many television programs moved their casts to or created shows in small towns and suburbia (Hine 24). People who moved to the suburbs liked to think they were moving to small towns, according to analysts of the time (Hine 24).
The book Populuxe makes the case that the years 1954-1964 were the high point of American consumer culture. Despite criticism by elite taste makers, many Americans bought products that were not of great quality but symbolized their fantasies about the past and the future (Hine 60-61). Crown Media appears to have tapped into the fantasies of Christmas and holiday buyers but has gone even farther by associating holiday consumption with other cultural myths of American mass consumers.
“About Hallmark Channel.” Crown Media, 2019, www.hallmarkchannel.com/about-us. Accessed 12 November 2019.
Battaglio, Stephen, “Hallmark Channel isn’t winning Emmys, but red states love it.” Los Angeles Times, 2017, https://www.latimes.com/business/hollywood/la-fi-ct-hallmark-red-state-20170914-story.html. Accessed 12 November 2019.
Danailova, Hilary. “Party, Gift and Hallmark Stores: Trends in Year-End Selling.” Souvenirs, Gifts, & Novelties, vol. 56, no. 4, May 2017, pp. 182-184. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=bth&AN=123229254&site=ehost-live. Accessed 12 November 2019.
Ellenbogen, Rachel, “Why Are Hallmark Movie Casts So White? We Asked The CEO” IBTimes LLC., 2017, https://www.ibtimes.com/why-are-hallmark-movie-casts-so-white-we-asked-ceo-2631589. Accessed 12 November 2019.
Ferrante-Schepis, Maria. “Lessons from Three Undisrupted Brands.” National Underwriter / Life & Health Financial Services, vol. 121, no. 2, Feb. 2017, p. 18. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=bth&AN=121064821&site=ehost-live. Accessed 12 November 2019.
Forkan, Jim. “Promo-Wise, Hallmark’s the Holiday Net.” Multichannel News, vol. 24, no. 15, Apr. 2003, p. 23. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=bth&AN=9537921&site=ehost-live. Accessed 12 November 2019.
“Hallmark Channel CEO Shares the Magic Behind the Network’s Strategy.” NCTA – The Internet & Television Association, 2019, www.ncta.com/whats-new/hallmark-channel-ceo-shares-the-magic-behind-the-networks-strategy. Accessed 12 November 2019.
Hill, Samantha Rose, “Why the Hallmark Channel Is Completely Dominating in 2017.” Group Nine Media Inc., 2019, https://www.thrillist.com/entertainment/nation/hallmark-channel-movies-success-2017. Accessed 12 November 2019.
Hine, Thomas. Populuxe: From Tailfins and TV Dinners To Barbie Dolls and Fallout Shelters. MJF Books, 1986 and 1999.
Knaub-Hardy, Kathy. “How to Sell More Christmas-Themed Home Décor and Ornaments.” Souvenirs, Gifts, & Novelties, vol. 51, no. 5, June 2014, pp. 116-122. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=bth&AN=97170255&site=ehost-live. Accessed 12 November 2019.
Meredtith, Brian. “Time to Rethink Christmas Marketing.” NZ Business + Management, vol. 30, no. 1, Feb. 2016, p. 54. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=bth&AN=112287637&site=ehost-live. Accessed 12 November 2019.
Rosa, Christopher, “There’s a Reason You See the Same Women in All Those Hallmark Christmas Movies.” Condé Nast, 2018, https://www.glamour.com/story/hallmark-christmas-movie-actresses. Accessed 12 November 2019.
Silverblatt, Art et al. Media Literacy: Keys to Interpreting Media Messages. Fourth Edition. Praeger, 2014.
Stirland, Kirby. “All the Trimmings.” Earnshaw’s Review, vol. 99, no. 6, July 2015, pp. 22-39. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=bth&AN=109111548&site=ehost-live. Accessed 12 November 2019.
Umstead, R.Thomas. “Hallmark: ‘JAG’ Fits Our Brand Strategy.” Multichannel News, vol. 24, no. 25, June 2003, p. 16. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=bth&AN=10092311&site=ehost-live. Accessed 12 November 2019.
Wolf, Tom, “A Nation Founded By Farmers.” Modern Farmer Media, 2013, https://modernfarmer.com/2013/07/the-founding-fathers-on-farming/. Accessed 12 November 2019.
There are a few more articles that I read but did not use on my Pinterest board:
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