The Hallmark channel is a mainstay at millions of homes for the holidays, but the network could isolate some viewers this season, TV insiders say.
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The Hallmark channel faced backlash this week for pulling commercials featuring same-sex couples after receiving a complaint from a conservative group, according to the Associated Press. The channel, owned by the greeting card company, backtracked, calling its judgment call a “wrong decision,” and reinstated the ads for wedding planning site Zola featuring two brides kissing on Monday.
And while audiences resonate with the channel's upbeat stories, it could do a better job of promoting diversity and inclusion in its content, Marc Berman, editor-in-chief of Programming Insider, told FOX Business.
"It sent out a signal that they're narrow-minded and have one definition of what a family looks like. This is a network that has not diversified and they could have really hurt themselves with this," Berman said. "The bottom line is it's 2020, you have to recognize the world is a diversified place. This was a very big misstep on their part."
The controversy sparked the hashtag #BoycottHallmarkChannel on Twitter as stars like Ellen DeGeneres and William Shatner slammed the network for pulling the ads. The Hallmark Channel, which is owned by the Crown Media Family, did not immediately return a request for comment but apologized on twitter.
Christmas programming is a cash cow for cable networks and streaming services profiting from content surrounding holiday cheer. Hallmark Channel garnered more than 2.9 million same-day viewers since it started airing its slate of Christmas movies in October, while Lifetime, a joint venture with Disney and Hearst, averaged more than 1 million viewers per movie since it rolled out its 18 films around the same time, according to The Hollywood Reporter.
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Hallmark is slated to roll out 40 new holiday-themed movies across its platforms, including 16 airing on Hallmark Movies and Mysteries and 24 premiering on Hallmark Channel under its "Countdown to Christmas" programming. The channel raked in a reported $600 million in ad revenue last year during the holiday season, according to Quartz.
Hallmark Channel's 24-hour Christmas programming has made Hallmark the No. 1 cable network viewed by women between ages 25 and 54, and the No.1 network in households and total viewers. The cookie-cutter programming, centered on couples overcoming challenges to find love during the holidays, has resonated with at-home audiences for having films with narratives crafted with a similar recipe. And Berman attributes the upbeat, happy storylines with its success over the years.
"It's comfortable, it's familiar, and it's the same formula basically in every movie. You know if you watch it, it's going to have a happy ending," Berman said.
This year, Lifetime, which has also run holiday-themed movies on a loop, has increased its viewership by 40 percent in the first month of "It's a Wonderful Lifetime" programming with 30 new features, and its viewership increased by 36 percent compared to 2018, according to The Hollywood Reporter.
While Hallmark has been the largest maker of seasonally themed programming, a number of other networks and streaming services have started churning out more Christmas-inspired specials and movies.
Netflix rolled out twice as much content this year, and Disney+ has more than 20 holiday-themed movies.
With reporting from FOX Business' Ann Schmidt.