Traditionally, the day after Thanksgiving ushers in the holiday season. For cable networks like Hallmark Channel and ABC Family, though, the Christmas programming season began shortly after the fall leaves began to turn color.
Early November holiday-themed programming fare has yielded both networks early ratings gifts, as viewers were anxious to get into the Christmas spirit.
Hallmark Channel’s early launch of its traditional post-Thanksgiving “Countdown to Christmas” programming stunt has already built week-to-week ratings momentum. The network said its “Countdown to Holiday Preview Weekend” drew a cumulative 14.1 million viewers, up 10% from the same period last year.
An original movie airing over that weekend — Christmas Song — averaged 2.4 million viewers, double the network’s 1.2-million primetime viewer average for November, according to Nielsen.
The network’s Nov. 10 holiday original film, The Wishing Tree, averaged 2.5 million viewers, while Nov. 7’s Matchmaker Santa set the network’s high-viewership mark for the year with 3.2 million watchers.
Overall, Hallmark aired more than half of its original holiday movies prior to Thanksgiving, a move Crown Media Family Networks CEO Bill Abbott said helped viewers get into the holiday mode. The network’s early holiday programming push coincided with its sister Hallmark stores’ “Holiday Open House” retail sales event, he added.
The network hopes to continue its strong holiday ratings momentum by airing six more original movies through Dec. 25. Such original holiday content helps separate Hallmark from competing services offering holiday stunts, Abbott said.
“Original content is what cable has become about, what we all stand on and what our brands have become synonymous with,” he said. “Having fresh content that nobody has seen before puts us in a leadership position.”
ABC Family, which has offered its “25 Days Of Christmas” programming stunt for the past 15 years, has found ratings success with its two-week “Countdown to 25 Days of Christmas” since 2007. This year the network is off ering an unprecedented 134 hours of mostly acquired holiday-themed content from Nov. 18 through Nov. 30.
The network’s Nov. 25 original movie, Home Alone 5: The Holiday Heist, pulled in 2.6 million viewers, more than double the network’s 1.2 million November primetime average, according to Nielsen. ABC Family president Michael Riley said the “Countdown To 25 Days of Christmas” serves as a bridge between the network’s “13 Nights Of Halloween” and its traditional “25 Days of Christmas” stunt.
The network’s, holiday fare including such classic movies as Miracle on 34th Street as well as the Dec. 9 original musical movie The Mistle-Tones, also provides the network with a vehicle to promote its upcoming slate of original series launching in January, including new episodes of Pretty Little Liars, Switched at Birth and The Lying Game.
Cable programmers are receiving the gift of ratings by airing their holiday-related specials prior to Thanksgiving Day.