An Interview with Super Channel’s CEO
Over the past few years, both US and Canadian audiences have been clamoring for companies to provide family-friendly entertainment, from movies to television to on-demand services. In 2017, Canada’s Super Channel welcomed a new chief executive who is now at the forefront of providing high-quality programming options for Canadian fans of Hallmark, Lifetime, UpTV, and more. While he began working in contract with Super Channel in 2009, now-CEO Don McDonald is described as having “great vision and focus” as he leads Super Channel into the coming year. Fans of Heart & Home are praising his efforts for bringing romance, connection, and community to families who had simply turned off the television since most programming didn’t fit with core family values. As most great leaders do, Don works diligently to add a personal touch to all of his interactions with Super Channel’s subscribers, which made talking with him an absolute delight.
ATG: Thank so much for taking time out of your hectic schedule to chat. You play an extremely important role in setting strategic direction for Super Channel. As a young business student, where did you actually see yourself working? Have you always hoped for a role in the television industry?
Don: I had no idea I would land in television. I wanted to go into marketing and research, but when I found out that my first jobs would be in sales, it scared me. So, I switched to accounting and earned my CPA/CGA. I worked in all sorts of industries: steel, manufacturing, finance, even hockey training. When I was asked to join Super Channel, I was working for the company that represented them. I started as a contract worker, and moved up from there.
ATG: Then, in 2017, you acquired the role of Chief Executive Officer and President of Super Channel. What challenges did this new role present?
Don: Oh, the whole landscape of television has changed over the past ten years with the start of on-demand services. Now, you are trying to find the right programming to fit your audience, that people will pay to watch. You have to rise above the noise and figure out what works. When Super Channel launched in 2007, we had “must-carry” status on cable and satellite providers with 4 linear channels and an on-demand channel. The programming strategy was to air the same programming across all 4 channels, adjusting for time zones. So really there was not a lot of difference from Super Channel 1, 2, 3 or 4. We needed to figure how to make Super Channel distinct and different as a service to provide value and choice to our subscribers. Our greatest asset was that we had “selve-space” with our 4 channels on the TV providers so our challenge was how do we provide viewers with choice and variety of programming.
ATG: Part of the restructuring of Super Channel involved rebranding each of those 4 channels, and the one that seems to have garnered the most attention is Super Channel Heart & Home. How did you and your team identify the need for this channel that specializes in family-friendly programming?
Don: We looked at When Calls the Heart, and we noticed a huge social media connection. We looked at Hallmark, and we looked at Canada. No channel in Canada compared to Hallmark. People on social media were asking for Hallmark in Canada. So, in February of 2018, we aired Season 5 of When Calls the Heart in real-time with the US. That moved into Heart & Home on Sundays. Viewers were loving it. They began thanking us for family-safe programming.
ATG: That is a demographic that has been sorely overlooked. I’m glad you are providing programming that households can feel comfortable watching together. How does the content on Heart & Home reflect your own family traditions and values?
Don: I’ve always liked programming with a happy ending. You know, we all want to be treated with dignity, politeness, kindness. We teach our kids to work hard and treat others the way they want to be treated. So, we developed family-safe programming content guidelines when acquiring programming for Heart & Home. We preview everything to ensure the program is within the guidelines – and it’s all commercial-free. Heart & Home comes down to three pillars: romance, family, and community. Heart is the romance, the people, and the relationships. Home is the family and unconditional love. Community is the people coming together to solve a problem or achieve a goal. The 3 pillars of Heart & Home are the basis of the programming we look for to provide the experience and hope for how all of us would like to live our lives with kindness, respect and fulfillment.
ATG: Back in November, Super Channel warmed the hearts of viewers even more by premiering Heart & Home Christmas, which opened with the classic White Christmas. How have viewers reacted to this celebration of all things Christmas?
Don: Accolades. Emails. Tweets on social media. Do you know we never used to get fan mail? They are so thankful for this content. We are premiering 28 new movies this season – and airing a total of 60. That’s 10-14 hours a day, back-to-back, commercial-free. Then, it all leads to Christmas Day when we will air all four When Calls the Heart holiday movies, culminating in the new When Calls the Heart: The Greatest Christmas Blessing. The reaction has been overwhelmingly positive. We are so thankful for our viewers. I don’t know if you’ve seen it, but I filmed a television spot specifically to thank all of these viewers who are making Heart & Home a success.
ATG: That’s a whole lot of Christmas movies. Thus far, which Christmas movie has been your favorite?
Don: So many of them are really good. I’ve enjoyed Come Dance with Me, My Christmas Inn and Christmas with a Prince. When I can’t watch live, I watch 1-2 movies each night on our on-demand channel. Of course, I’m looking forward to When Calls the Heart on Christmas Day.
ATG: If you were cast in a role for one of these Christmas movies, what kind of role would it be? Romantic suitor? Stuffy businessman? Or maybe Saint Nick?
Don: I like the idea of being the family patriarch. I really migrate to the role Mick O’Brien plays in Chesapeake Shores. While I don’t admire his take on the separation of business and family, I love how his family comes together – they go to their experienced father with their troubles and he passes out good advice. I love that character and the show. It’s not one-hundred percent perfect – there are conflicts and family issues, but they get resolved. And it teaches morals and values. I really love Mick’s role. Or I’d be a storekeeper, as a walk-on role.
ATG: I have a feeling that viewers would cast you as the Jolly Old Elf or Father Christmas, since Heart and Home Christmas is gifting viewers with the the airing of When Calls the Heart: The Greatest Christmas Blessing. Will you be joining Hearties as they tweet on Christmas Day?
Don: Yes, I’ll be tweeting on Christmas Day, and I’d love to see any comments from viewers. In order to watch in real-time with the US, we had to figure out what to do during commercial breaks, since Super Channel doesn’t have them. So, last year we began sharing special content at the breaks – you know, behind-the-scenes stuff, and trivia, and such. American Hearties got a little jealous, so Hallmark asked what we were doing on those breaks. I am curious to see what they do with that. But, that’s one of those things we get from joining together on social media.
ATG: I am so glad to hear you say that. You have a very strong social media presence. What do you like most about interacting with viewers?
Don: Hearing back from fans is great. We develop a personal bond, and I love that I can engage on that level. I even got birthday wishes this year from viewers, from fans, from some of the When Calls the Heart actors, too. When we first began airing When Calls the Heart on Super Channel, that was my first time joining social media. That’s the best way to bring a personal presence and build relationships with viewers, so I got out there. No one prepares my posts for me. It’s all me. I remember one time, I was tweeting with the Chessies, but I used the hashtag #Cheesies. A fan commented that “cheesies are good, but chessies are better.” I think that’s fun. It shows that we are all human.
ATG: I look forward to more social media fun in the next few weeks. As this year comes to a close, and we celebrate the success of Super Channel Heart and Home, how bright is the future? What can viewers expect to see in 2019?
Don: We have so much in store! We’ve acquired all 17 of the Signed, Sealed, Delivered movies. We have Janette Oke’s Love Comes Softly Series and Season 6 of When Calls the Heart. We will also be airing at least one new premiere movie each week. We just added all the seasons of Cedar Cove, too.
ATG: That is definitely a very bright future. Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers?
Don: I really enjoy the fans. We’ve come to a world where there’s a lot of bad out there. We all want to be safe and comfortable. I like that I can lose myself in these movies. I think that is what television and movies are supposed to do, so I’m glad we can do that with Heart and Home. I love hearing fan comments. I try to personally respond to any messages I receive. I’ve had to clean up my handwriting a bit, though.
Don, the patriarch of Super Channel, had a few more wise words to share as we discussed all things family-friendly. He recalled reading the story of a firefighter who, at the end of long and tiring days, comes home to turn on Hallmark movies. Sometimes, Don says, he needs that, too. And the secret to being a strong leader? Find out what people do well. Be positive. No matter how bad it is, we can look for the positive and then find the room to grow. He takes his own advice, and he truly welcomes viewers’ feedback. So, as you watch Super Channel’s offerings this season, be sure to let Don know what you enjoy and what more you would like to see. You can send him a tweet at @DonWMcDonald on Twitter or email him directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. Be sure to join in the fun on social media as we share some heartfelt family shows with the leader in family-friendly programming in Canada.