Whether you’ve been naughty or nice, every year you can expect a stocking full of options to binge-watch during the holiday season.
December is no longer a barren wasteland of repeats and encore presentations of It’s a Wonderful Life. In the “too much TV” era, everything is on the table. One wonders if that could lessen the desire for Christmas programming.
But in fact, Hallmark Channel sees seasonal programming and their annual “Countdown to Christmas” bonanza as the perfect counter to “Peak TV.” Indeed, when those sleigh bells are jingling, ratings continue to ting ting tingle for networks.
ABC relies on its fan-favorites, while Hallmark Channel uses its brand recognition, but whatever the strategy, several networks seek a piece of Christmas.
“Christmas is always going to be important. It’s the biggest holiday of the year, it represents time with the family, time with friends, time with loved ones, and we bring importance to that,” said Susanne McAvoy, Hallmark Channel’s executive VP of marketing, creative and communications. “Given everything the country has seen around the election, people are looking to just find a place where they can go and not think about all of the stresses going on in the world.”
Hallmark Channel hopes that place is their network. The notion that the holidays come but once a year is an adage by which Hallmark chooses not to abide.
“It’s Christmas every day here. It really is. We have adopted a seasonal strategy, because we’ve seen that our viewers really respond to that,” said McAvoy.
Christmas is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. Afterwards, Hallmark celebrates “Winter Fest,” a series of movies during January. Then they dive into “Countdown to Valentine’s Day,” followed by “Spring Fling” programming in March, leading to their “June Weddings” stunt, then “Summer Nights,” “Fall Harvest” and back around to “Countdown to Christmas.”
“That strategy stemmed from the success that we’ve had, and have, around ‘Countdown to Christmas,’” said McAvoy. “Our viewers have really responded to that.”
This year, Countdown to Christmas began on October 29, and presents 19 film premieres on the road to Christmas, including one every Saturday & Sunday at 8/7 c (not to mention its bountiful Thanksgiving slate).
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To promote their robust programming, Hallmark is all over the country and social media, with more stunts, activations and partnerships than Santa himself can make it to.
Our journey begins in Los Angeles, where the network is offering sneak previews for two of their films at The Grove theater, including the world premiere of A Nutcracker Christmas, starring Amy Acker, on Dec. 5.
Last year, Hallmark began a relationship with Six Flags for “Holidays in the Park,” and that partnership continues in a big way this year with the introduction of a virtual-reality roller-coaster experience called “Santa’s Wild Sleigh Ride” at the Six Flags Magic Mountain in Valencia, CA. The ride up to the North Pole, which includes elves and snowballs, launches Nov. 19.
The network’s partnership with Jimmy Kimmel Live! continues with another segment starring Guillermo watching Hallmark movies with star Lori Loughlin that airs November 21.
California isn’t the only area blessed with Christmas cheer: Hallmark is teaming up with Gaylord Hotels and their four locations (Dallas Fort-Worth, Nashville, Orlando, D.C.) for “ICE!”—an indoor wonderland with intricate holiday scenes crafted from two million pounds of ice. Once you’ve slid down a two-story ice slide, there are gingerbread houses to make and cookies to decorate.
Santa’s next stop is in New York. On November 29 and 30, Hallmark sponsors the tree-lighting at South Street Seaport in NYC. Hallmark will transform the area into a Christmas village resembling a Hallmark movie set, and festivities include a special 3D projection light show.
Hallmark will be all over the city, as they take over Grand Central Terminal with a station domination throughout the north end and shed area of the terminal. In addition, the network continues to sponsor Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas Is You” concerts at The Beacon Theatre in New York, which runs from December 5-17.
Not in New York? No problem: Hallmark presents the Trans-Siberian Orchestra throughout November and December all around the country.
Santa returns to the nation’s capital on Dec. 5, when Hallmark Channel will premiere The National Christmas Tree Lighting. The event has been a staple of the holidays since Calvin Coolidge was in the White House, but this is the first year it’s being broadcast on cable.
No matter where you are, Hallmark’s website is an ode to the holiday, jam-packed with themed recipes, DIY how-to’s, quizzes, and a wildly popular seasonal sweepstakes presented by Lumber Liquidators and Folgers.
Yes, Hallmark has us “Dreaming of a White Sand Christmas,” where viewers can enter to win a luxurious trip to Beaches Turks & Caicos Resort Villages & Spa, or a $5,000 gift certificate.
Hallmark Channel puts a bow on everything with its focus on social media. In addition to a litany of Hallmark card giveaways, they host a card-writing Instagram contest and with “Season Your Selfie,” you can give your photos the holiday filters they need.
It’s easy to get overwhelmed by all of the stunts and initiatives, but Hallmark’s strategy is simple.
“We love our Christmas. We start early, and people come,” said McAvoy. “We give them what they want.”
Of course, Hallmark Channel isn’t the only one to get Christmas.
Indeed, Up TV’s new tagline is “we get Christmas.” Kicking off 50 days of programming on November 5, Up TV offers six premiere movies and holiday themed episodes of America’s Funniest Home Videos.
Cartoon Network starts December right with a wintry marathon of their own on the first of the month, starting with The Powerpuff Girls at 5 p.m. ET/PT, followed by holiday-themed episodes of Clarence, Teen Titans Go!, We Bare Bears, Uncle Grandpa, Regular Show and Steven Universe.
A week later, Sony’s free streaming service Crackle gets in on the action with an all-new half-hour holiday special of their original stop-motion comedy series SuperMansion, entitled SuperMansion: War on Christmas, launching Dec. 8.
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Joining series stars like Bryan Cranston and Keegan-Michael Key are Jim Parsons as Mr. Skibumpers and Gary Anthony Williams as Santa Claus.
For the entire month of December, Freeform will unwrap the 20th year of its “25 Days of Christmas” programming stunt, featuring familiar stocking stuffers such as Elf and National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.
The CW is getting into the holiday spirit this year, with a brand new holiday series Terry Crews Saves Christmas. Airing across four nights starting Dec. 20, each episode features Terry Crews and a team of party planning experts helping “hopeless holiday enthusiasts” put together a Christmas everyone will remember.
On Dec. 12, The CW premieres Greatest Holiday Commercials Countdown 2016, hosted by Kevin Frazier and Keltie Knight. The inimitable Dean Cain hosts The Top 12 Greatest Christmas Movies of All-Time on December 14.
The CW’s polar express continues with the iHeartRadio Jingle Ball 2016 on Dec. 15, featuring performances by Justin Bieber, Ariana Grande, The Chainsmokers, and other Billboard Top 40 favorites.
On Friday Dec. 16, the party continues with The 85th Annual Hollywood Christmas Parade, where Grand Marshal Olivia Newton-John and hosts Erik Estrada, Laura McKenzie, Dean Cain and Montel Williams present musical performances, celebrity-filled cars and character balloons.
After a busy Thanksgiving, ABC continues its “Home for the Holidays” stunt with CMA Country Christmas, hosted by Jennifer Nettles, on Nov. 28. The two-hour special coincides with Nettles’ new album, “To Celebrate Christmas,” released Oct. 28. The event includes a toy drive in partnership with the U.S. Marine Corps’ Toys for Tots program that collected 5,000 unwrapped toys for children in need last year.
Normally a battleground for cable, ABC is expanding its “Home for the Holidays” programming this season.
“The holidays fall right within our wheelhouse,” said Darren Schillace, SVP, marketing strategy, ABC Entertainment. “All of our comedies really take off during the holidays. The holidays represent family, obviously, and our network is known for great family shows, and that wraps up so nicely.
It shouldn’t be surprising to note that Fresh Off the Boat, The Real O’Neals, The Goldbergs, Speechless, Modern Family, Black-ish, Last Man Standing, Dr. Ken, The Middle, and American Housewife all have Thanksgiving and/or Christmas episodes this year.
“It lets us do some fun marketing and branding for the night. We always pop a rating when a show features a holiday,” said Schillace. “Whether it’s your holiday or the family’s holiday that you’re watching, in this day and age, people are sparking to those types of moments.”
With The Goldbergs celebrating Hanukkah this year, and Fresh Off the Boat celebrating Chinese New Year for the second year in a row, it’s also a testament to ABC’s diversity.
If sitcoms aren’t on your Christmas list, then perhaps you’re looking for a dose of reality. The Great American Baking Show premieres December 1, while The Great Christmas Light Fight airs in three parts on Dec. 5, 12 and 19.
Or maybe you’re looking for holiday themed specials featuring fan-favorites like Toy Story and Shrek, or classic films like Sound of Music, Mary Poppins and yes, Frozen.
With these familiar titles, ABC hopes to replicate the success it had with It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown! on social media.
Without a penny spent behind it, ABC’s digital team cut footage from the classic and posted it on Facebook on October 17. It reached 22 million people. They posted it again on October 19, and it reached another 10 million people.
“We’re so lucky to have programs this instantly recognizable,” said Schillace. “When you’re on social media, that’s what you want. That’s what people are going to spark to. We have to tap into those feelings on the air.”
You can bet ABC will be active in anticipation of A Charlie Brown Christmas’ December 1 premiere.
ABC’s increased holiday activity shouldn’t come as a surprise. In a DVR-dominated landscape where sports and live shows rule, Christmas programming offers what networks dream about: appointment television.
“I can’t imagine a lot of people are going to DVR the Charlie Brown holiday special and watch it in February. It’s an opportunity that comes once a year,” said Schillace. “Whether you’re an adult feeling like a kid or watching with your kid, there’s something fun about watching Charlie Brown live on air.”
At a time when television strives to be anything but, holiday programming proves time and time again that viewers want the safety in a familiar choice with the people they love. Given the uncertainty in the world, who can blame them? That’s what Christmas is all about.