Here’s the latest from the crossroads of faith, media & culture: 07/26/23

ImageBill Abbott of Great American Media and Pure Flix

Brand builder. As reported here last month, Great American Media has officially merged with Sony’s Pure Flix subsidiary to build a powerhouse faith-and-family operation run by GAM President and CEO Bill Abbott who famously led Crown Media (now known as Hallmark Media) as its Hallmark Channel and Hallmark Movies & Mysteries operations soared to the top of the heap of cable entertainment networks. So what happens now?
JWK: Great American Media is the home to the Great American Family cable network as well as other channels like Great American Living, Great American Community (launching Sept. 26th) and Great American Adventures. How is the Great American Media merger with Pure Flix working in terms of each side building on the assets of the other – and how does Sony fit into the whole picture?
Bill Abbott: To start with, as consumers we all see it every day and, certainly, as students of the business we read about it every day – how more and more viewers are migrating from linear TV to streaming and also to FAST (Free Ad-Supported Streaming TV) channels. So, for us, we need to be exhibiting our content everywhere that our viewers are going. It was Mission: Critical for us to be in the streaming business.
When Sony came along, and we had the opportunity to work with them and have Pure Flix folded in underneath us, it just made all the sense in the world to us given, especially, the sensitivities and the overall strategic focus. I think the value of both organizations are very well aligned. This deal makes us a lot stronger, it gives us the ability to produce content in a variety of genres and it also gives….viewers, who might not have access to Great American Family, the opportunity experience a lot of the Great American Family brand on Pure Flix while, at the same time, Pure Flix will certainly keep true to its core values of being a service that celebrates faith and family.
JWK: How does the relationship between Great American Media and Sony work?
BA: Sony is a part owner of Great American Media. It certainly is an important strategic partner in our effort. They bring a plethora of different advantages to the table that will allow us to grow the business quicker than we might have if we were independent and on our own. Yet, at the same time, they are great people who have full belief in the management team at Great American Media and just want us to operate the business independently. They are very good partners and we’re extremely excited about the potential of some of the synergies that exist there.
JWK: Would it be fair to say that Pure Flix is more focused on faith whereas Great American Media is faith-friendly as well but maybe a little broader?
BA: I think that’s fair to say. I think we certainly plan on looking at Pure Flix a little bit differently in that we want it to be broader as well and we want to bring Great American Family closer to the Pure Flix brand. If you think about Great American/Pure Flix kind of as an overarching kind of business, you have that opportunity…On the streaming side, you can take some chances and do some things with some content because you’re not serving it up to the viewer in a lineup fashion. You can allow the viewer the opportunity to watch something that’s a little bit more faith-focused or drama-focused or even kids-(focused) whereas if you deviate and you move into the kids space, for example, in the linear business – in and around your movie content – that’s a very difficult flow to have as a successful network that generates ratings and, therefore, ad revenue.
JWK: You’re kind of known as a master of branding. Right now you’re doing Christmas in July on Great American Media and Pure Flix. That flows naturally from when you were overseeing Hallmark Channel and made it apparent to the industry that there’s almost an insatiable appetite for Christmas movies out there. Why do you think that is? Why do you think Christmas is such popular theme with the public – even in the summertime?
BA: Well, you know Christmas is all about tradition and uplifting and inspiring. I think at its very core it’s a time of the year where families are together and they need to find things to watch that are not going to assault their senses in general. So, Christmas is just that time of year when it’s the perfect storm of so many elements coming together that make it a great viewing time – the weather, the music, the spirit, the overall experience of the season. It’s unparalleled, obviously.
I think, for us though, we view ourselves as the quality outlet in the Christmas space. I think the Christmas genre can get a bad name just by some of the produced content that’s out there that isn’t necessarily (of high quality in terms of) the talent, the dialogue or the locations. In our case, we really want to be that stand-out place for high-quality content. I think we’re off to a great start with what we’ve done at Great American Family and we’re upping our game this year even more.
JWK: Do you have any concern that bringing Christmas movies into July might be a little bit of over-saturation?

BA: I always worry about overexposure of our content. Christmas season is something that is near and dear to all of us here. The last thing we want to do is to over-utilize it. So, yes, that’s always a concern. At the same time though we just get so much positive feedback. There’s just so much passion for it. The middle of July is kind of like the middle of the year when people need a break from the hot weather. They want to look forward to and think about Christmas. Christmas is a season of anticipation. People just love watching the Christmas content in July when the weather is hot (and they’re) thinking about a time when they will be celebrating with their families and they will experience that really uplifting, inspiring faith-filled content again when the season approaches. It’s a balance though.

JWK: Are there any particular new titles that you’d like to bring a little attention too?
BA: We have a movie that was shot in Paris (called) A Paris Christmas Waltz that is beautifully done starring Jen Lilley and is filled with elements of dance and celebration and romance and connection. It’s a movie I know our viewers will really enjoy. Again, it’s all about upping our game and about creating a consistent lineup…While this title stands out I’m doing a disservice to the other movies that we’ve produced because they all have their own takeaway and their own points within them that the viewer will leave having had a good experience watching.
JWK: You spent 20 years at Crown Media where you built Hallmark Channel and Hallmark Movies & Mysteries to great success. I think the annual revenues under your tenure soared from $10.2 million to $223 million. When you left and went to Great American Media, a lot of your viewers and a lot of your the stars you worked with decided to follow you – including Candace Cameron-Bure, Danica McKellar, Trevor Donovan and Lori Loughlin. I’m wondering if you could tell me a little bit about that period – and your thoughts on the differences between the Hallmark and Great American Family brands.
BA: Hallmark decided to go in a different direction I think for a variety of reasons. They have their reasons. Our focus is on…being consistent with what our viewers want to see and presenting talent and stories that are inspiring, uplifting and are well done. The reality of the business is that it’s a competitive landscape. We view everyone as a competitor and, certainly, they have been the leader – although their ratings have fallen off significantly over the years. We look to the point in time when we’ll be the undisputed number-one provider of faith-and-family content in the entertainment space.

JWK: Finally, what’s ahead for Great American Media and Pure Flix? Where do you see the combined company in five to ten years?

BA: Well, I see us as just that – that place where if you are a viewer who wants to be inspired, wants to be uplifted and wants to have content that you can watch and feel good about and watch with your entire family will be your automatic choice, that is a prolific producer of content in both the faith and the family space and be that is a beacon of light in, quite frankly, a world that is pretty dark on the entertainment side. So, that’s our goal and our mission. The day we’re the Netflix of that space – faith and family – will be a great day.

John W. Kennedy is a writer, producer and media development consultant specializing in television and movie projects that uphold positive timeless values, including trust in God.
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