It’s not your imagination: Christmas comes earlier every year, and on TV at least, it stays longer.
Programmers are leveraging the marketing platform of the holidays like never before. Cable networks such as ABC Family, Hallmark Channel and Lifetime practically give themselves over to holiday-themed movies during the months of November and December, after revving up with Halloween fare just weeks before.
“Home for the Holidays,” “Help for the Holidays,” “Hitched for the Holidays,” “A Princess for Christmas,” “A Boyfriend for Christmas,” et al. — the stream of hokey telepic titles is endless, it seems, at this time of year.
NBC is looking to capitalize on the feel-good festive environment with its live broadcast of “The Sound of Music,” toplined by Carrie Underwood and Stephen Moyer, on Dec. 5. CBS has its share of holiday chestnuts that are perennial faves — and is perhaps looking to add to that this year with the Dec. 20 airing of a long-lost episode of “I Love Lucy.” Even Fox cues up special episodes of “The Simpsons” and other shows. And of course, Turner’s cablers were facilitating binge viewing before it was cool, with the annual 24-hour “A Christmas Story” marathon (a tradition since 1997) on Dec. 25.
To the delight of programmers, holiday fare has proven to be successful on social media, especially on Twitter. This fall in September, for example, Lifetime’s airing of the 1993 Sarah Jessica Parker-Bette Midler starrer “Hocus Pocus” weeks before Halloween led to the pic trending nationally across Twitter, even as the Big Four were rolling out their fall tentpoles and the government shutdown dominated national headlines.
When it comes to throwback holiday pics and specials, word of mouth spreads quickly on Twitter during a telecast, encouraging tune-in from festive fans.
ABC Family’s yearly 25 Days of Christmas lineup has become event television, and the stunt’s social-media shares grow each year. With more than 300 hours of programming associated with the event from Dec. 1-25, ABC Family’s veep of marketing Danielle Mullin leverages multiple digital platforms to keep the stunt simmering for fans, long before the mercury drops.
The Facebook page for 25 Days of Christmas, for example, saw huge social media interaction — more than 150,000 likes and 94,000 shares — on its branded Sept. 16 post for “100 Days Until Christmas!” Recently, the Facebook page crossed the 4 million-fan mark, and has begun engaging with Facebook users and Christmas enthusiasts on a daily basis as promo efforts ramp up with December on the horizon.
“We’ve done 25 Days of Christmas for several years (on-air),” Mullin says. “Now that we have this toolbox of social media platforms, we can take our shows to the masses in a way that’s much more effective than just advertising.”
NBC, too, has been plotting what it hopes will become an annual social media event. The live telecast of “Sound of Music,” exec produced by Broadway mavens Craig Zadan and Neil Meron, is part of the Peacock’s larger strategy to field attention-getting stunts that drive live viewership and serve as a platform for NBC’s roster of new shows.
Over at CBS, event exec Jack Sussman also emphasizes live fare during the holiday season, including the Grammy nomination special and Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show. But broadcasts of classic pics like stop-motion “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” continue to be strong ratings players, even after decades (since the 1970s) on the net. “As that broadcast has evolved over the 15 years our team has been at CBS,” Sussman says, “we’ve managed to update it with some great technology and unseen footage.”
Mullin says that the combination of holiday telecasts with social media helps fans share their enthusiasm for the programs, and amplifies the networks marketing message. Even better, she adds, the lessons learned from those shows are a gift that keeps on giving well after the decorations have been packed away.
“We can take these strategies that are working in terms of driving engagement around the holidays,” Mullin says, “and bring them over to our original series, as well.”
Pictured (left to right): “Christmas Bounty” (ABC Family), “A Very Merry Mix-up” (Hallmark), “Past Christmas” (Lifetime) and “Ben’s Christmas” (Hallmark).