Bill Abbott is stepping down from his post as president and chief executive of Hallmark Channel, the cable network’s parent company announced Wednesday.
“I want to thank Bill for his many years of success and contributions to Crown Media and wish him continued success,” Mike Perry, president and chief executive of Hallmark Cards Inc., said in a statement. Abbott, 57, had been on the job for 11 years.
No reason was given for Abbott’s immediate exit, which comes as a surprise in light of the growth and success at Hallmark Channel under his watch.
But the decision follows Hallmark’s controversial decision in December to pull an ad from online wedding planning company Zola because it featured same-sex couples celebrating their marriages.
After significant backlash on social media, the company reversed its decision and apologized.
Perry publicly said that it was a “wrong decision” to pull the ad.
Hallmark, based in Studio City, has designed itself as a controversy-free haven for viewers, with gentle romantic comedies set in idyllic towns.
The channel has managed to grow or retain its audience in recent years as other cable entertainment networks have seen declines because of competition from streaming video services such as Netflix. It plays particularly well across middle America but has become escapist viewing for women throughout the country.
Abbott joined Hallmark Channel in 2000 as the network’s head of advertising sales. He replaced Henry Schleiff as president and chief executive in 2009.
Under Abbott, Hallmark Channel expanded its original programming and saw its ratings and ad revenue rise. He also oversaw the launch of a second channel, Hallmark Movies & Mysteries, and a subscription streaming service called Hallmark Movies Now.
Hallmark did particularly well during the holiday season, running a nearly round-the-clock lineup of Christmas movies starting in the fall. The week of Dec. 16 to 22, the channel had an average of 1.7 million viewers in prime time, according to Nielsen data.