Dec 16, 2019 - Economy & Business

The new Christmas culture war

Zola commercial of two women getting married
Photo: Zola

The battle over what counts as "family-friendly" in America is currently raging over at the Christmas movie channel, with important lessons for anyone who runs a major corporation.

Why it matters: Media brands are under pressure to change their standards of what "family-friendly" looks like.

  • The Hallmark Channel has now twice reversed course on an advertiser's wedding spot that features two women kissing.
  • The network initially removed an ad from Zola, a wedding planning company, calling the commercial "divisive," before restoring it and apologizing the very next day.

Hallmark has thrived in recent years with Christmas movies that viewers mainline from late October through the New Year.

  • It's “your place to go to get away from politics, to get away from everything in your life that is problematic and negative," Bill Abbott, the CEO of Hallmark's entertainment company, told the New Yorker.
  • "Countdown to Christmas has made Hallmark the No. 1 cable network among women between the ages of twenty-five and fifty-four, and, in some prime-time slots, No. 1 in households and total viewers," the New Yorker notes.

The big picture: The pressure isn't just coming from activist groups, but also corporate advertising partners, which are under enormous pressure today to take a stand on social issues.

  • Advertisers like Toyota came under fire over the weekend by activist groups who were pressuring them to pull their ads from the Hallmark Channel, unless the network reversed its decision.
  • Advertisers have also proven skeptical about running their ads against LGBTQ content, in fear that it could change the way their brands are perceived.

Between the lines: The industry is changing fast.

  • PBS is planning to increase its LGBTQ programming on broadcast and digital next year, sources tell Axios.
  • NPR was recently applauded for embracing a plurality of diverse voices on its air.
  • Disney hosted its first "Magical Pride" celebration at one of its theme parks in Paris earlier this year.
  • Highlights, a children's magazine, made headlines two years ago when it featured an illustration of a same-sex couple in an issue for the first time.

The bottom line: 61% of Americans support same-sex marriage, up from 31% in 2004, according to Pew.

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