Hallmark Channel Won the Streaming Wars

I watch a lot of Hallmark Channel programming around the holidays. With all of the options available on Netflix, Max, Hulu, and others, this feels like a very throwback move. Still, every year, the channel’s Countdown to Christmas is unmissable. This is why, despite not really having a huge presence in the streaming wars, the network—yes, the network—wins them.

For the uninitiated, Countdown to Christmas starts at the end of October and runs through late December, consistently rolling out brand-new movies in which overly flawless people holding mugs of warm beverages solve largely non-consequential, very middle-class, romantic problems over the course of the holidays.

Generally, the plots revolve around someone (frequently played by Mean Girls alum Lacey Chabert) who leaves a big city, goes home (or to some quaint bourg) for Christmas—often post-breakup—meets a special person (usually an Xmas aficionado), and fights off falling in love. As our protagonist does, they FaceTime their friend back in the city about it (the friend is often sassy and the city is often New York), and then ultimately end up staying in whatever arty-crafty place they’ve found themselves with the new love of their life.

There are other quirks, too. Sometimes, the protagonist discovers they’re a duke or duchess (A Merry Scottish Christmas); once in a while they are one of three brothers who find themselves raising a kid in a more biblical, soft-edged reimagining of an ’80s Steve Guttenberg classic (Three Wise Men and a Baby).

Pithy descriptors notwithstanding, these movies rule. Predictability is the point. Hallmark has built a brand out of finding exactly what works for a certain kind of viewer and making sure that’s all it airs. Hallmark Channel caters to these fans, Lisa Hamilton Daly, the network’s head of content, recently told Vulture, The exec came to Hallmark in 2021 after three years at Netflix and found that it had much more brand identity than her previous gig. “It’s kind of a bespoke world,” she said.

Desire to hang out in the Hallmark world is what gives the network its advantage. While streamers like Netflix and Max have a lot of stuff, they don’t really have a strong identity. Max used to. Disney+, because it’s the home of largely family-friendly content, kind of does. Or it has multiple identities in the form of Marvel, Pixar, Star Wars, princesses. But no one fires up Netflix when they have a specific, say, sci-fi itch they need to scratch; they go to the home screen to find something they’ve heard about elsewhere, or because they’re ever hopeful that Netflix’s algorithm will be able to suggest something they’re into. Hallmark viewers, on the other hand, can’t choose what’s going to be on when they go to the channel, but they do know exactly what they’ll be getting.

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