Hallmark's "Christmas in July" began two years ago as a single weekend intended as corporate synergy. The programming aired to draw attention to the annual debut of new holiday ornaments by Hallmark Cards, yet unexpectedly struck a chord with viewers. The weekend averaged 747,000 viewers, or 55 percent above more season-appropriate fare that aired the same weekend the year before, the Nielsen company said.
Viewership ticked up slightly in 2013 when Hallmark expanded its offerings, and this year the network went all-in. In addition to the movies, Hallmark's daytime show "Home & Family" will offer holiday tips oriented to the time of year, like saving up for shopping or storage of decorations.
"You're always concerned with how viewers will react to this kind of stunt," Abbott said. "The passion that they reacted with was a surprise, on social media particularly. We would receive a lot of feedback. People would buy ornaments and go home and watch a holiday movie."
Besides the rerun movies, Hallmark will air for the first time "Angels Sing," a former theatrical release starring Harry Connick Jr. and Connie Britton.
"Often you can enjoy these movies more when it's not the holidays because the holidays are such a time of stress and hustle and bustle for people," he said. "Sometimes anticipating the season is better than actually being in the season."
Movies that play best in the summer tend to be family stories where the holidays are more of a backdrop, Abbott said. The Debbie Macomber series will be emphasized, for example. A holiday music special wouldn't particularly work.
Hallmark has toyed with the idea of a holiday-oriented network full-time, although it would feature other seasons besides Christmas.
That would involve risk, though. November and December are big business months for Hallmark, and the company would not want to cut into those ratings.
"We have to be very careful of overexposure," Abbott said.