Bill Abbott heads a media production company whose programming is responsible for tens of millions of viewers — three-quarters of whom are women — spending hours and, on occasion, the good part of an entire weekend, on the couch, glass of wine in hand, tissue box within reach, losing themselves in stories of love, hope, heartbreak, and more hope.
He is the CEO of Crown Media Family Networks, a name likely not known by many of those viewers. But they are fanatics for its ratings jewel, the Hallmark Channel, and especially programming celebrating its 10th anniversary this year: Countdown to Christmas.
It is an annual festival of original, feel-good, weekly movies that last year reached nearly 80 million unique viewers between its launch in late October through the end of December.
THE CHARADES CHALLENGE
Among the devotees are two Pennsylvania sisters in their 30s who saw opportunity in that fandom and talked their way into a licensing deal with the Hallmark Channel to produce a board game for Countdown to Christmas aficionados.
The way Cassie and Jacklyn Collier sealed that deal was playing the game in Abbott's Midtown Manhattan office.
“It was a surreal moment,” said Cassie, co-founder with her sister of a custom board game company, Bundle LLC, that, perhaps presciently, stems from a Christmas present to their parents in Mount Carmel, Northumberland County, in upstate Pennsylvania. It was a board game the sisters made based on family trivia.
The Collier sisters have turned what had been a hobby since 2013 into a start-up that was accepting online orders. Sales, all through thebundlegame.com, have reached about $35,000 — 80% of them customized games, priced at $60; general ones are $35.
The sisters, who live in New York, have kept their three-days-a-week jobs — Cassie as a financial analyst at Deutsche Bank; Jacklyn, an actor, who currently is doing two projects with Hallmark Channel. One is a small part as a fall foliage tour guide in the movie “Love, Fall and Order,” expected to air in September or October, and as cohost of Bubbly Sesh, a podcast she helped create that features recaps of all new Hallmark movies and interviews with their stars.
PASSION FOR HALLMARK MOVIES
The idea to approach Hallmark about collaborating on a board game came from Bundle customers, Jacklyn said. Questionnaires that clients fill out to help the Colliers create truly customized games often come back indicating a passion for Hallmark Channel movies, she said. When she heard Crown Media wanted to do something extra special this year to commemorate 10 years of Countdown to Christmas, she and Cassie got to brainstorming about a Bundle-style game for fans.
Abbot agreed to meet with the sisters in June.
The sisters talked up their Bundle idea, featuring 83 cards in four categories solely focused on Countdown to Christmas facts and fascinations.
And then Abbot suggested they play the game. So they did.
Name four of your favorite Hallmark Channel Christmas movies. Describe your dream cast for a Countdown for Christmas movie. Then came the act-it-out category that prompted the charades.
Abbott was skeptical about the "act-it-out" category working.
But Cassie did the only thing she could think to do: Drew a card and started acting out the movie name on it.
“Then he gets it,” she said. He makes the correct guess — “Father Christmas.”
A week later, the agreement was signed, giving Bundle the authorization to create Bundle: Hallmark Channel Countdown to Christmas Edition, including use of the Hallmark Channel logo and promotion in its 2,000 Gold Crown stores.
The games, which will sell for $35 plus tax, shipping, and handling, are expected to get to customers in late October, in time for the official launch of Hallmark Channel’s Countdown to Christmas programming on Oct. 25.