TV and the holidays go together like jingle and bells. Have you seen the “This is my Hallmark Christmas Movie Watching Shirt” making the rounds on Etsy and Pinterest? The ratings each year show it’s more than anecdotal—people love watching TV around the holidays. In the first two weeks of its “Countdown to Christmas” stunt, Hallmark Channel has been the highest-rated and most-watched network on cable for two consecutive weeks among Women 25-54, Women 18-49, Households, and Total Viewers (excluding news and sports).
Is it any wonder that networks are upping their Christmas game? Freeform has expanded its “25 Days of Christmas” by launching the month-long “Kickoff to Christmas” on Nov 1. AMC is coming to the ball with its largest slate of holiday programming ever—with 35 holiday films that run from Nov 26-Dec 25. Netflix is getting into the spirit with holiday eps of original series, such as “Chilling Adventures of Sabrina” and “Fuller House,” alongside original films “The Christmas Chronicles” and “The Holiday Calendar.”
Despite all the Christmas competition, most players seem to think there’s room around the tree for everyone. Crown Media Family Networks pres/CEO Bill Abbott cautioned though that quality shouldn’t be sacrificed for quantity. “For the ecosystem’s sake, it just is good when high quality content is produced and executed on and brands are developed and the consumer is happy,” he said. “While we are producing a high number, we’re absolutely, relentlessly focused on every script, every casting decision, every storyline, every production element, all the way down to the final delivery of content.”
It’s also important that networks stay in their lane, even when it’s lined with candy canes. “We’re mindful of who is out there and increasing their content…, but I think what is important is that the content you’re putting out is distinctive enough that your audience understands you’re there to serve them,” said UP TV evp, gm Amy Winter. UP looks for content that focuses on the meaning of Christmas and the spirit of giving back. Hallmark Channel has carved out a space with romantic originals that are safe for the whole family, while sister Hallmark Movies & Mysteries falls more on the dramatic side.
Even nets that are in similar genres find their own niches. “Our demographic is a little bit different than some of the other family entertainment networks, like UP TV or Hallmark. We’re still focused on co-viewing like they are, but we really lead out with those 8 to 15 years old and their parents,” explained BYUtv director of content Andra Johnson Duke. That’s on full display with holiday film premiere “Shoelaces for Christmas,” in which a self-absorbed teen ends up forming deep bonds at a homeless shelter. “We’re looking for modern nostalgia… and we feel like there’s a bit of a hole there right now,” Duke said.
AMC is planting a flag in the traditional Christmas space, snagging three major titles—“Elf,” “Polar Express” and “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” that previously were part of Freeform’s holiday marathon. Dubbed “AMC Best Christmas Ever,” the net’s slate includes a slew of theatricals, including “Miracle on 34th Street” and “A Christmas Story 2.”
“I don’t think you could ever have too much Christmas,” quipped said Tom Halleen, evp, programming & scheduling for AMC and SundanceTV. While AMC loves its originals, it’s long been in the movie game. This year marked its 22nd “Fear Fest,” with 80 films featured. “We love celebrating films. We’ve always had a holiday film presence, but they were limited. We had five, maybe six films in rotation,” Hallen said. “2018 is the first year we’ve turned over the entire schedule to the holidays, with over 600 hours of holiday centric programming.”
Freeform’s holiday celebration includes some firsts, such as a 90-minute “Pop Up Santa Holiday Special” on Dec 3 that includes sweet moments such as a surprise baby shower at a military base and a home giveaway.
Ultimately, all this holiday fare may prove good for the soul. “I feel like especially this year, with as much negativity that’s been out there—dealing with the elections and some polarization, I think we can all come together around some Christmas movies as soon as possible,” Winter said.