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Is this a good thing? Crown Media mulling Martha Stewart channel

March 29, 2010 | 10:34 am

It sounds like a good thing, but we're not so sure.

Crown Media, parent company of the Hallmark Channel, is apparently in talks with lifestyle guru Martha Stewart about creating a new lifestyle cable network for her. According to Broadcasting & Cable ace Claire Atkinson, Crown is in very preliminary discussions with Stewart's Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia about such a venture. Martha Stewart

Here's a better idea. Just give her the Hallmark Channel to run. Stewart is practically taking over the network anyway, and it already has mass distribution. Why go through the hassles of trying to launch a new channel, which will struggle to get carriage on cable and satellite systems?

As Atkinson notes, starting today, Stewart will be responsible for practically one-third of Hallmark's programming. The cable network, which was on the block for years but couldn't find any takers, has struggled to make a name for itself and has gone through some pretty high-profile executives in the process, including Henry Schleiff and Margaret Loesch.

Ratings for the Hallmark Channel have taken a dive. As Company Town noted last week, in the first quarter of 2010, its audience fell by 34%.

Part of the challenge for Hallmark is trying to attract a wealthier audience. For a while, it had some decent ratings with mainstream family programming, but that did not necessarily translate into big ad dollars. It also is at a disadvantage when it comes to distribution fees. It doesn't get the same rates as channels that have similar ratings but are owned by bigger media conglomerates such as Viacom and Walt Disney Co.

Getting into business with Stewart was smart for Hallmark. Certainly Martha Stewart is a big brand with a following. Since she is already programming seven hours of the channel, just give her the other 17. It'll be a lot cheaper in the long run than trying to start a whole new network.

-- Joe Flint

Photo: Martha Stewart. Credit: Associated Press