Great American Family CEO Bill Abbott on GAF and Pure Flix

Great American Family CEO Bill Abbott on GAF and Pure Flix June 22, 2024

A smiling actor working on a Christmas movie.

It’s a Tuesday morning in June, and Great American Media president and CEO Bill Abbott is hard at it, especially for the upcoming Christmas season on Great American Family.

“I don’t think I even want to talk about it,” he says. “That’s how busy I am. It’s a lot going on, but it’s all good. But the preparation for the second half of the year, and the content slate really kicks into gear here as we get into the latter half of 2024, which is exciting, but there’s a lot to do.”

Bigger Budgets for Great American Family

Catching up after our first chat back in March, Abbott says he has already got Christmas movies in various stages of production and post-production for Great American Family.

That includes My Grown Up Christmas Wish, starring Mario Lopez and his family.

But Abbott’s not thinking about following the lead of other cable channels and coming up with a huge tentpole series, a la HBO’s Game of Thrones (and its spinoffs) or AMC’s Walking Dead (and its spinoffs).

Says Abbott, “We’ll have some big announcements coming that will be bigger-budget movies that are going to be great for us. But beyond that, it’s HBO.

“We’ve seen it with AMC where they’ve had a few big hit shows, but then once that well runs dry, the financial model changes dramatically, and you can see the result in both AMC and Max, the result and their stock price.

“So from our point of view, we want to provide a consistent experience for the subscriber and the viewer on a weekly basis. And to do that, we don’t need to do the huge big-budget series or movies that are the tentpole pieces, because our audience is really just looking to be entertained in a certain way on a weekly basis.

“We find that model just financially is more sound and isn’t so hit-dependent.”

The Perils of the Tentpole-Series Model

What happens when a tentpole series ends?

Says Abbott, “It’s hard enough sleeping at night when you’ve got a consistent seasonal theme going, or a run of movies going, where you’re getting a lot of viewership.

“But I can’t imagine trying to develop a hit series that puts you in a position where you have to drive people to your service, keep them there for that period of time, and then potentially they go away.

“So from our point of view, it’s really that turn-it-on-and leave-it-on experience that is so key.”

Abbott’s thinking is closer to the heyday of broadcast networks, where the goal was to hook viewers at the beginning of primetime and keep them there until the local news came on. But in today’s pick-and-choose environment, network brand loyalty is fast disappearing.

Creating a Safe Family Environment in the Scripted Space

In an era when “family TV” is more often than not unscripted fare, like HGTV, Animal Planet, Food Network, etc., Abbott’s goal in scripted is to ensure a consistent experience and a safe environment.

His shows and movies usually aren’t made for the whole family (not a lot of littles are that into Christmas rom-coms), but you don’t have to shoo kids out of the room or worry that something racy or scandalous is going to happen when you’re not looking.

“We have a lot of families and women, 25 to 54,” says Abbott, “who are looking to ensure that the environment and that something that’s on isn’t going to give them nightmares.

“Life is hard enough. We don’t need to put something on that’s going to shock you or make you feel unsafe, and that’s a big piece of it. Or have your kids see it and have them have nightmares. That’s a big piece of our success and what we’re building here.”

The Challenge of Churn in Streaming

With its acquisition of Pure Flix, now called Great American Pure Flix, Great American Media is also in the streaming business. One big issue that streaming has yet to crack is churn.

It’s something that pay cable also experiences, but it’s even more intense in streaming. Churn is when people subscribe for a specific series, but, as soon as it’s done, they cancel. Or, they wait until the whole series is available on the service, then subscribe, binge and bounce.

For many (myself included) one more streaming sub is one too many.

“So in our case,” Abbott says, “they’ll come in, they’ll watch either on a trial for seven days, or they’ll pay for it for a month and then boom, they’re out.

“And that is devastating to our economic model and really puts us in a position where we need those series that allow us to keep the audience in for longer than a seven-day trial or a month.”

So, one big series won’t do. A streamer needs a stable of ongoing series to keep viewers turning in. Abbott’s putting the money where his mouth is, announcing four original series this year for Pure Flix, most recently Shadrach, from Sony Affirm Originals, filmed in Georgia.

Bingeing Vs. Weekly Episodes

Asked if he prefers the dump-and-binge model or stretching out a series one episode a week, Abbott says, “Well, I prefer as a consumer to dump it all at once and be able to watch it all in a row. As a person in the business, the model works much better when it’s over a period of time. So we’ve gone with that model that’s one a week and have been successful with it.

“We’ve done a number of focus groups on this. The consumer always comes back with, ‘I want them all right now, so I can binge it and be done with it.’ But from a financial point of view, that’s one of the many things in streaming that is disadvantageous to the bottom line.”

Pile onto that the challenge of remembering what is on which service, and working your way through searches and menus, and you’ve got some very frustrated consumers.

Fans of linear TV are cranky because so many things are only available now on streaming, and streaming users are tired of piling up monthly charges and running down batteries on their remotes trying to find shows and movies.

Bundling Is Back

One way services are fighting churn is good old-fashioned bundling, like when cable channels made you pay for a whole tier to just get one channel. Everything old is new again

  1. “There will be consolidation,” says Abbott. “I think that’s inevitable. And once there’s consolidation … you’ll see a much cleaner experience. Of course, you’ll pay $59.99 for a service that includes Disney plus Max …”

Creating Faith-Friendly — But Not Necessarily Christian — Content

The idea of family friendly entertainment is synonymous in many people’s minds with faith-forward entertainment, most often with a strongly Evangelical Christian flavor. But many families that want clean content aren’t necessarily Evangelical, or even Christian.

Says Abbott, “We want to be cognizant and respectful of those differences. But at the end of the day, it’s basically the same fundamental value system.

“And that’s really where I think we try and live, so that we’re inclusive, and we’re not offending anybody, and that we’re not just for one religion or one set of people of faith. People of faith — they have a lot more in common than … things that are different.”

The Magic of Mario

Lastly, Great American Family has been very successful at luring away talent previous associated with Hallmark or Lifetime. Most recently, that’s Catholic actor and family man Mario Lopez.

“Mario is an even better person than he is talent,” says Abbott. “And that’s saying a lot. because I’ve never seen anyone so buttoned up and prepared and focused as Mario Lopez. He is a machine, and yet at the same time, he lives his beliefs outside of the world of performing in a way that we all admire so much.

“So he is a treasure, and we’re proud and privileged to work with him.”

Take a peek at Lopez’s first movie for Great American Family, featuring his wife Courtney and son Dominic.

And, you can watch my whole interview with Abbott here, including our chat on why Easter movies are so much more challenging than Christmas ones.

Image: Mario Lopez/Great American Family

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About Kate O'Hare
Based in Los Angeles, Kate O'Hare is a veteran entertainment journalist, Social Media Content Manager for Family Theater Productions and a rookie screenwriter. You can read more about the author here.
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