MBPT Spotlight: ‘Rudolph’ Again Shined Brightest Among Broadcast Networks’ Animated Holiday Classics

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer was once again the bright light this holiday season for TV viewers, however, most of the other animated Christmas classics that the broadcast networks aired from late November through December recorded declines in both viewers and the 18-49 demo compared to the previous year.

Rudolph on CBS drew 10.6 million viewers among live-plus-same-day viewers in its first telecast this season, the only kids holiday animated show on any broadcast network to pull in an audience of more than 10 million. In its December 9 telecast, it also drew an 18-49 demo rating of 2.8, according to Nielsen data. As was the case the previous year, Rudolph, which first aired in 1964 and has been televised on CBS since 1972, did not do as well as its first seasonal showing, drawing 5.2 million and a 1.2 in the demo four days later on a Saturday night.

The first airing of Rudolph was down 6% in viewers from its first telecast in 2013, which drew 11.3 million viewers, but up 5% from the 10.1 million it drew in December 2012.

In live-plus-seven-day viewing (not C7, which includes commercial viewing), Rudolph picked up over 20% more viewers, boosting its total viewership to 13.2 million.

Why does Rudolph each year shine above all the other animated classics? Brad Adgate, senior VP, research at Horizon Media, has some theories.

“It’s based on a well-known Christmas song that all the kids learn at a young age and know,” Adgate says. “It might be the second-most-known Christmas song next to White Christmas. Plus, the parents remember watching the animated telecast and they make sure to tune it in for their kids.”

Adgate adds, “It has withstood an amazing test of time and that’s why all generations watch it each year from gen Z to baby boomers. And what makes it more amazing is that with today’s technology, it can be DVR’d for kids, but large numbers still watch it live.”

Adgate says a plus for advertisers is that it is family friendly, making it a nice vehicle for just about any brand.

The 10.6 million Rudolph audience included viewers of all ages. The telecast drew 1.6 million viewers 2-11; 550,000 kids 12-17; 1.1 million viewers 18-34; 3.5 million viewers 18-49; 3.5 million viewers 55-plus; and 2 million viewers 65-plus—a ready indication to advertisers that all sorts of brands could be marketed during commercial breaks in the animated classic.

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The next-most-watched animated Christmas classic on the broadcast networks was A Charlie BrownChristmas on ABC, which drew 6.8 million viewers and a 2.1 in the 18-49 demo in its first airing on Dec. 2 and 6.3 million viewers and a 1.8 in the demo in its second telecast on Dec. 16.

The first telecast was down about 4% in viewers compared to its Dec. 2013 airing, but was up 10% in the 18-49 demo. Its second telecast this season was just about flat with the second Dec. 2013 airing with its 18-49 demo audience up 5%.

The third-most-watched animated Christmas classic was How The Grinch Stole Christmas on ABC. The Dr. Seuss special was first televised in 1966, and this season ABC aired it on Christmas night when it drew 6 million viewers and a 1.9 in the 18-49 demo. That’s 46% more viewers and a 58% higher demo rating than the 2013 telecast, which aired on Christmas Eve. Clearly, ABC did not repeat the mistake of airing it when most kids were already asleep.

Overall, most of the holiday animated fare showed small viewer increases or declined in live-plus-same-day viewership, with one possible reason being more people watched in delayed viewing mode via DVRs over seven days.

Frosty the Snowman aired twice on CBS. The first telecast drew 4.6 million viewers and a 1.1 18-49 demo rating, but that was pretty much because the network aired it on Black Friday when most people were out shopping, most likely with kids in tow. In live-plus-seven-day ratings, Frosty totaled 6.1 million viewers, but still lower than the first airing in 2013, when the live-plus-same-day total on Dec. 6 was 6.7 million.

The second airing of Frosty the Snowman on December 13 drew 5.4 million viewers in live-plus-same-day, compared to 5.3 million for the second airing on December 14, 2013.

Frosty Returns in its December 13 airing drew 4.4 million viewers, compared to 4.2 million in 2013. And in live-plus-seven-day viewing it perked up just slightly to 4.7 million.

CBS also televised Yes, Virginia, There Is A Santa Claus on Black Friday night and it drew just 3.6 million and a 0.8 demo rating, compared to 5.5 million viewers and a 1.4 in the demo in 2013 when it aired on December 6.

NBC aired Elf: Buddy’s Christmas, an hour-long stop-motion animated story based on the movie Elf, on December 16 and it drew 4.8 million viewers and a 1.3 18-49 demo rating. The network aired it again on Christmas night and it fell to 1.1 million and a 0.3 in the demo.

Santa Claus is Coming To Town on ABC took a big ratings hit when it aired Dec. 9, drawing 4.1 million viewers and a 1.1 in the demo, compared to 5.8 million and a 1.6 demo rating in Dec. 2013.

Also on ABC, Shrek the Halls on Dec. 23 drew 5.3 million viewers and a 1.2 demo rating, flat in viewers and down from a 1.5 in the demo from 2013, when ABC aired it on Black Friday night.

Although not a Christmas animation special, ABC made a smart move by airing A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving on the Wednesday night before Thanksgiving in 2014. It drew 8.1 million viewers and a 2.2 18-49 demo rating. In 2013, ABC televised it on Thanksgiving night and it pulled in 5.3 million viewers and a 1.6 in the demo.

The CW aired a handful of animated classics but the best was the 52-year-old Mister Magoo’s ChristmasCarol, a musical adaptation of Charles Dickens’ classic tale. The animated special originally aired on NBC in December 1962 and reportedly was the first animated holiday program ever produced for TV, out before Rudolph, which was first shown in December, 1964.

Magoo, which features the voice of Jim Backus, has made the rounds on TV over the years and while most of The CW’s audience was not born when it first aired, the first showing on the network on Dec. 19 drew 1.3 million, a sizable CW audience.

The network went to the well a second time, airing it on Christmas Eve and it didn’t do as well, drawing only a paltry 782,000 viewers.

The animated kids’ holiday specials might not be as important as they once were, but they still bring family audiences to the TV screen, along with lots of moms, and that is always a desirable audience for marketers around holiday shopping time.