By Michael Foust, Crosswalk.com
Great American Family launched two years ago as a rival of Hallmark and has gradually cultivated a dedicated fanbase. July data from Nielsen Media Research showed that Great American Family was TV's fastest-growing network for the ninth consecutive month. Total viewership that month was up 139 percent from the same month one year earlier.
Crosswalk recently spoke with Bill Abbott, the CEO of parent company Great American Media, about the company's success and its future. Here are five questions we asked Abbott, with his answers lightly edited for clarity:
1. Let's start off by talking about the merger between Pure Flix and Great American Media. Why did you support a merger?
We all live in a world where more and more viewers are turning to streaming rather than linear TV. And while linear TV still has a long runway, and we're big believers in that business, the ability to stream whatever you want, when you want it, and do it seamlessly has changed the landscape. And so, for us, it was really a strategic imperative to enter into the streaming business.
At the end of the day, content is always king, but how you exhibit it is critical. And having PureFlix part of our organization now and being in business with Sony is a huge advantage for us moving forward.
2. Give me a preview of what you guys are doing this Christmas.
Most importantly, the quality is up significantly from where we were last year. In starting this business, at times, we've had to go out and put some things on the air that didn't necessarily project where we want to be. And that's just due to the fact that it's hard to create a lot of content very quickly. ... This season, we've really upped the quality. … We have high-profile talent again this year, from Candace Cameron Bure to Danica McKellar. … We had 18 [Christmas movies] last year. We'll have 20 this year.
3. Would you say that Great American Media embraces faith a little more than other platforms would?
For sure. … [On Great American Family,] people can be proud of their faith, and they can feel good about going to church, and they can feel good about the relationships they have with their pastor or other people in the community. … The way it's positioned in the mainstream media, being a person of faith isn't always a flattering portrayal. And in our case, we really want to reinforce the elements of faith. Candace is a big advantage that we have in this space in that she really understands the audience.
4. Is this an underserved audience that you're attracting?
It's certainly very much underserved. And while others continue to push different agendas and have different points of view that are intertwined throughout their content and, frankly, aren't appropriate for most members of families or a co-viewing experience. We work very, very hard to maintain that standard. And I think that is very much appreciated. … We scrutinize every word in our movies. We are very sensitive to doing anything that would be betraying the trust of our viewers.
5. How did you develop the passion for family-friendly entertainment?
I started in family TV in 1988 at CBN. And that is where I really learned about the space. And the more I got involved, and the more the culture became so much more coarse and what was acceptable on broadcast and cable, [it was a] snowball effect where it's gone so far out of control.
I remember a time when there were certain things you couldn't do [on TV] and you wouldn't do just as a matter of decency. As the culture has changed, and as things have gotten much more challenging, I've really seen the need [for it]. And the passion I have for it comes out of serving the audience and being different in this way.
Bill Abbott is President and Chief Executive Officer of Great American Media, home to the portfolio of family-friendly brands, including linear TV networks, Great American Family and Great American Living; a free streaming app, Great American Community; and a FAST channel, Great American Adventures. As the company’s flagship network, Great American Family features original holiday movies, rom-coms and classic series celebrating faith, family and country.
Photo credit: ©SWN/BillAbbott
Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and news for 20 years. His stories have appeared in Baptist Press, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, the Leaf-Chronicle, the Toronto Star and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.