Holiday Programming Stunts Deliver Comfort — and Ratings

Christmas is less than a week away, but television viewers have been celebrating the holiday season since Halloween, watching holiday-themed programming that has delivered a ratings gift to networks.

Holiday movies and specials from cable networks like Hallmark Channel, UP TV and Freeform have benefited from viewers’ seeming desire to see uplifting, comfort programming after a difficult 2016 marked by an unnerving presidential campaign and troubling economic conditions in the country.

“This year the environment overall admittedly has helped us,” Crown Media Family Networks president and CEO Bill Abbott said. “People are looking for that safe destination that they can feel good when they get to it, and that’s played a big role in our success.”

Hallmark, which launched its lineup of 19 original holiday films before Halloween, has consistently finished among the top three most watched networks in primetime during the month of December. The network’s sixth annual "Countdown to Christmas" programming stunt is up by double digits among all key demos compared with last year’s edition, including a 22% jump among total viewers, according to Hallmark officials.

Sister service Hallmark Movies and Mysteries is also performing well with viewers. The network set a ratings record among adults 25-54 with its Dec. 11 original movie Sound Of Christmas.

UP’s “We Get Christmas” lineup has remained hot after launching over the first weekend of November with 5.5 million viewers, led by the premiere of its original holiday movie Married by Christmas, the network said.

Freeform’s annual “25 Days of Christmas,” which launched during the Thanksgiving weekend, has catapulted the network into the top five most watched cable networks over the past two weeks. The network is averaging 1.4 million viewers in primetime during the month, well above the 893,000 viewers the network averaged in November.

Holiday programming has always appealed to viewers during the period between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve: 85% of all U.S. TV households, or more than 217 million viewers, watched at least one minute of holiday content last year. But the turmoil and consternation revolving around the election and other events in 2016 has made holiday content even more relevant this season.

“We’ve had such a tumultuous year that folks are looking for upbeat, positive programming, and certainly the main thrust of holiday programming is positive, uplifting and fun,” Bill Carroll, senior vice president and director of content strategy for Katz Television Group, said. “We spent so much time over the last year on both sides dealing with the election that I think viewers are looking for that end-of-the-year push for a more positive mood.”

R. Thomas Umstead

R. Thomas Umstead serves as senior content producer, programming for Multichannel News, Broadcasting + Cable and Next TV. During his more than 30-year career as a print and online journalist, Umstead has written articles on a variety of subjects ranging from TV technology, marketing and sports production to content distribution and development. He has provided expert commentary on television issues and trends for such TV, print, radio and streaming outlets as Fox News, CNBC, the Today show, USA Today, The New York Times and National Public Radio. Umstead has also filmed, produced and edited more than 100 original video interviews, profiles and news reports featuring key cable television executives as well as entertainers and celebrity personalities.