Put down the sunscreen and grab your ugly sweater because the most wonderful time of the year is here again.
Since 2012, the Hallmark Channel has piggy-backed on the massive success of its annual Countdown to Christmas programming event by launching Christmas in July, giving its devoted fanbase yet another month filled with holiday cheer and irresistibly cheesy movies.
While it started off as a reason to re-air its stacked stable of seasonal offerings, the summertime visit from Santa quickly proved to be a viable marketing opportunity, so Hallmark decided to trade the sun for snow, pausing their roll-out of summer-themed content.
“Christmas in July was an immediate hit and the franchise has continued to build momentum as more people discover the programming event each July,” Randy Pope, the senior vice president of programming and development, told E! News.
And in 2015, the network began premiering one new original Christmas movie in July, with Crashing Through the Snow starring Amy Acker and Warren Christie set to premiere on Saturday, July 10.
To make the programming event unique for loyal viewers, Hallmark “carefully curates” the line-up of movies, including themed marathons, like Soap Sunday, Countdown to Christmas greatest hits, and 2020 Christmas movies across the two channels.
And, much like how Hallmark actually kicks off its Christmas content in October while the leaves are still crunchy and the pumpkins are still being carved, Christmas in July actually began in June on Hallmark Movies and Mysteries (HMM) and the response proved how strong the holiday spirit is.
Viewership was up 13 percent among the coveted female audience of age 25 to 54 and four percent among women age 14 to versus a year ago, when the stunt attracted over 15 million unduplicated viewers.
When it comes to Christmas in July, what then network lacks in original content—one original movie compared to Countdown to Christmas’ 39 offerings in 2020—they more than make up for when it comes to creating a cozy atmosphere, a snow globe of holiday cheer shielded from the blistering temps outside.
To do so, “Our brand marketing team works up to a year ahead to plan and execute a unique look and feel for the coming year’s programming event,” Pope said. “This year, they wove everything we love about summertime with the splendor of the holiday season.”
Think beach-goers wearing Santa Claus hats clinking candy cane-adorned cocktails instead of Coronas, a decked-out Christmas tree nestled in the sand next to a palm tree and a wreath proudly displayed on a lifeguard stand.
“Beyond the movies, we have special recipes, online interactive quizzes and special product for purchase,” Moss explained, adding that a collection of products, including drinkware, t-shirts and socks, will be available online and in Hallmark Gold Crown Stores in mid-July.
Add in Crown Media’s ever-expanding wine collection—a subscription club recently launched to “enjoy life’s special moments” year-round, much like the rotating line-up of seasonal-themed programming blocks—and you don’t just have a network, you have a lifestyle.
As for what it is about the Christmas content in particular that enchants viewers year-round—Hallmark closed out 2020 as the No. 2 entertainment channel, thanks mostly to Countdown’s success—Pope said it’s “because it summons the spirit of the season, that special warmth, positivity, togetherness, connection and hopeful feeling we get during the holidays.”
Since its launch in 2011, Countdown to Christmas has become a pop culture phenomenon, turning into a beloved and reliable tradition that many of the network’s competitors have attempted to duplicate with their own original holiday movies. Netflix and Freeform have added their respective millennial edge to the genre, while Lifetime banks on nostalgia, often staging reunions of beloved TV casts for its line-up. But when it comes to Hallmark, it’s all about unabashed and unapologetic sincerity.
And viewers can only expect the merriment to get even, well, merrier, with Pope promising, “We are always discussing more ways to make our programming events special. We like to look at Christmas in July as a gift to our viewers who are excited for Countdown to Christmas. It’s a sneak preview of what’s to come starting in October.”