In a world trending on naughty, cable and broadcast networks alike are betting viewers want to spike their eggnog with a healthy dose of nice this holiday season, the perfect counter to everyone’s neverending binge lists.
“Holiday programming is becoming more important just given everything that’s going on in the world, be it violence, politics, sexual harassment, you name it,” said Susanne McAvoy, Hallmark Channel’s executive VP of marketing, creative and communications. “It’s reminding people of the importance of family and people that you love.”
“The holidays can be a stressful time for many and the desire for comfort food in the form of holiday classics or new holiday programming gets ratcheted up,” said Josh Line, Comedy Central’s executive vice president of marketing and creative.
Despite viewers having more options of what to watch, executives see evidence that holiday programming is more desired than ever.
“People want to sit down and see that love story during the holidays, that movie where it’s gonna have a happy ending, where we can sit back and relax,” said Valerie Albanese, managing creative director, Lifetime marketing. “Even with everything you can watch, this is something viewers look forward to seeing on Lifetime. I don’t think they can get it anyplace else, like on Netflix or the other platforms.”
“Holiday programming is always going to be important. Christmas isn’t going away that I know of,” said McAvoy. “Why not embrace it and celebrate it? Little kids are always going to want to get up and see if Santa’s there. All those traditions are core to who we are. It’s the root of our DNA. We’re the heart of TV and we want to remind people what’s important.”
Viewers likely won’t forget about Christmas on the Hallmark Channel or Hallmark Movies & Mysteries. As has become the norm, Hallmark began its “Countdown to Christmas” programming before Halloween, premiering the first of its 21 new original movies on October 28.
“We’re synonymous with the holidays. We’ve become a tradition in people’s lives. They’ve come to expect this from us, and we continue to give them more and more of what they want every year,” said McAvoy.
Christmas fans have been rockin’ around the TV set, as Hallmark’s holiday programming has made the network the most-watched and highest-rated cable network among households, women 18-49, women 25-54, adults 18-49, and total viewers three weeks in a row since holiday programming first made its early debut.
“We don’t stray from our brand. We embrace our brand, we shout it from the rooftops: this is who we are,” said McAvoy. “We’re not trying to be someone we’re not. It’s all about authenticity.”
Hallmark has again enlisted everyone in Santa’s workshop to promote its new content.
On November 9, Hallmark became the first sponsor and partner with Lord & Taylor in New York for their 80th annual holiday window unveiling. The Fifth Avenue windows feature special holiday-themed animations. The retailer teamed with Hallmark for a special series of windows along 38th Street celebrating “Countdown to Christmas.”
The crown jewel of Hallmark’s marketing push may have been the five-day “Museum of Christmas” activation in New York. From November 15 through November 19, all ye Christmas faithful came to play in the 8,413 square-foot installation. Every inch of its halls were decked with selfie-bait, including an “infinity” room of Christmas lights, a “snow”-ball pit, life-size Christmas stockings, a walk-in snow globe, “peppermint” tire swings, a Christmas tree smell room, and a Christmas present-themed jungle gym.
Hallmark’s spreading the cheer throughout the country with their continued partnership with Six Flags. The network has teamed with the amusement park franchise for Six Flags Snow Day on December 9. The event takes place in every one of their parks simultaneously, promising the world’s largest snowball fight. The event includes hot chocolate, music, games, giveaways and more.
If all you want for Christmas is to get away, Hallmark’s “Countdown to Christmas” Sweepstakes promises one lucky family a vacation, including Delta Vacations airfare to a Gaylord Hotels resort, with a Balsam Hill prize package.
This marks the second year the network has partnered with Gaylord Hotels, as the network integrates its messaging with the hotel chain’s many Christmas activations in the form of gingerbread house-making.
If “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” sounds like a challenge, fans looking to see live Christmas music will find Hallmark has their back. Martina McBride took a break from her “Joy of Christmas” tour to perform a private concert for Hallmark sweepstakes winners in Nashville on November 18.
Hallmark not only continues to sponsor the Trans-Siberian Orchestra’s countrywide “The Ghosts of Christmas Eve” tour (from November 16-December 30), the network sponsors Jewel’s “Handmade Holiday Tour,” which runs November 25 through December 13 all across the country.
Given the breadth and depth of its programming slate, Hallmark has license to get cheeky with it, and have, creating a Fantasy Game. Each week fans predict which movies will have the most viewers, receiving points and rewards based on their performance. The grand prize winner receives $20,000 and a new footwear wardrobe.
Throughout the holidays, Hallmark’s social platforms will be busier than the North Pole. The network plans a litany of Facebook Live events with their talent, and a bevy of giveaways, including fan-favorite Hallmark Keepsake ornaments.
Counting down the final 12 Days of Christmas, Hallmark will unveil featurettes with their stable of stars discussing their favorite holiday moments and traditions on-air and on social.
“It’s nice to see your talent be so authentic about Christmas and know they believe in Christmas,” said McAvoy. “It resonates with our viewers. Everybody gets so crazed and rushed, but it’s really about those special moments and traditions.”
While Hallmark has taken advantage of its yearly head start, Lifetime aims to stuff your stockings with their own holiday content when “It’s a Really, Really Cozy Christmas” begins November 25.
The stunt promises six original movies, with six mini-movies debuting after each.
To promote its content, Lifetime sought a different wrinkle.
“We knew there was a space we could occupy that was quirky, and a little different than just going all about romance,” said Albanese. “That’s what the Lifetime movies have in all of them, but there’s a quirky side of things. From a programming standpoint, that’s what sets Lifetime apart.”
This quirk is evident from their Cozy Christmas spot (below).
“The spot amplifies the cozyness and warmth of Christmas. You want to get cozy, have your hot chocolate, or have a glass of wine and watch a Lifetime movie during the holidays,” said Albanese.
Lifetime aims to live up to their warm-giving promise in the form of a “Really, Really Cozy Christmas” giveaway package for fans that includes a blanket, hat, and socks.
In New York, Lifetime will be sending their “Cozy” elves to various media buyers to make their offices cozy for the holidays.
“We’re bringing cheer to people’s grumpy offices. We’re really cozy-fying their space,” said Albanese.
Similar to Hallmark, Lifetime plans to feature its holiday (and non-fiction) talent in a series of on-air and social featurettes in which stars reveal their coziest Christmas memory, coziest Christmas wish, and so forth.
Lifetime knows its brand and is sticking to it.
“People want that escape, but also not be fooled by what they’re getting,” said Albanese. “As a brand, it gives us a destination every year. They are getting exactly what they’re coming here for: a nice Christmas story with snow, romance and their favorite stars.”
Of course, Hallmark and Lifetime aren’t the only ones committed to the holiday.
With 50 days of Christmas programming that began November 5, Up TV promises 500 hours of family friendly content.
In addition to 14 new original movies, Up TV again visits Stars Hollow for the entire week of Thanksgiving with “GilMORE the Merrier.” 153 straight hours of Gilmore Girls began Monday November 20 at 10am ET. Star Yanic Truesdale hosts the weeklong sojourn, accompanied with necessary binge survival tips and well-deserved hourly prizes.
Comedy Central provides a tonic to the romance (and the news), with two specials: the Drunk History Christmas Special and I Came Up with Christmas: A President Show Christmas.
“They will be supported across all of our platforms with short-form videos that both promotes the specials and serves as great stand-alone content as well,” said Line.
Case in point: an old-fashioned Christmas album infomercial with President Trump singing his favorite holiday songs on Air Force One, and a Drunk History-themed rewrite of “12 Days of Christmas.”
Another network that takes its Christmas very seriously is Freeform, with “25 Days of Christmas” returns for its 21st year on the network formerly known as ABC Family. The event kicks off December 1 with network favorites like Elf and Santa Clause.
But this year, the network has a new toy nestled underneath the tree in the form of its first original movie, Angry Angel. Premiering November 27 during the network’s annual “Countdown to 25 Days of Christmas,” the film stars Jason Biggs and Brenda Song.
Throughout December, the Freeform app and its website will be home to “25 Days of Christmas Partyscapes,” long-form videos pairing baby animals with festive landscapes. On December 6, fans can view the cuteness on the 25 Days of Christmas and OhMyDisney’s Facebook pages and vote live to choose between watching kittens or puppies, attempting to settle the cats vs. dogs debate once and for all.
While temperatures drop outside, broadcast mainstays continue to position classic specials and musical events against the avalanche of cable content.
The most exciting option might be Fox’s next foray into live musicals with A Christmas Story Live, a musical adaptation of the classic holiday film coming December 17. From the Grease: Live team, the event stars Matthew Broderick, Jane Krakowski and Maya Rudolph.
And because you can never have enough Cookie(s) during the holidays, Fox’s Taraji’s White Hot Holidays returns for a second year, featuring the Empire star, Ciara, Fergie, Leslie Odom Jr., Salt-N-Pepa and appearances by DJ Khaled, Method Man and Tituss Burgess, among others. The music and variety show airs Thursday, December 14, followed by Showtime at the Apollo: Christmas, an evening hosted by Steve Harvey that features artists such as Snoop Dogg, Boyz II Men and DMX performing their favorite Christmas songs, fulfilling my cozy Christmas wish.
NBC’s competing holiday mantelpiece includes a capella group Pentatonix returning for A Very Pentatonix Christmas November 27, joined by Jennifer Hudson and Jay Leno.
Gwen Stefani’s You Make It Feel Like Christmas may prove to be the bigger draw for the network. Arriving December 12, the special debuts songs from Stefani’s new holiday album, and features Blake Shelton, Chelsea Handler, Seth MacFarlane, and more.
NBC gets in the spirit before that, however, with DreamWorks’ Trolls Holiday on November 24, hoping a festive Justin Timberlake and Anna Kendrick will deliver a new holiday favorite.
If it doesn’t, NBC remains the home of the 85th annual Christmas in Rockefeller Center (November 29) and perennial must-watch It’s a Wonderful Life on Christmas Eve.
ABC counters with the Peanuts and Frozen franchises.
A Charlie Brown Christmas returns November 30 on a night that premieres The Wonderful World of Disney: Magical Holiday Celebration, headlined by Frozen stars Kristen Bell and Idina Menzel, performing a new song from the upcoming short Olaf’s Frozen Adventure.
CBS similarly sticks to old favorites, kicking off, as always, with Frosty the Snowman on November 24 and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer on November 28.
On December 3, the network will celebrate The Carol Burnett 50th Anniversary Special, reuniting Burnett and original cast members, followed by the I Love Lucy Christmas Special with two colorized Christmas episodes of the classic sitcom.
Not to be outdone, The CW rings the silver bells December 1 with its annual presentation of Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer, followed with some quite literal Christmas magic in the form of a Masters of Illusion holiday special.
Kevin Frazier and Keltie Knight again host the Greatest Holiday Commercials Countdown 2017 on December 12, with Dean Cain hosting The Top 12 Greatest Christmas Movies of All Time on December 20.
But if all you want for Christmas is Taylor Swift, The CW’s there for you with the iHeartRadio Jingle Ball 2017 on December 14. In addition to T-Swift, Ed Sheeran, The Chainsmokers and many more will rock in the yule.
While the world outside is frightful—and man, it doesn’t show signs of stoppin’—Hallmark, Lifetime, Freeform and company hope their holiday programming is delightful enough to keep viewers from going anywhere else.