MBPT Spotlight: Among This Year’s Primetime Holiday Classics, Only a Certain Red-Nosed Reindeer Kept Its Luster

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While Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer was a bright light again this holiday season for TV viewers, most of the other reliable animated Christmas classics that the broadcast networks aired late November and into December so far have recorded hefty declines in both viewers and in the 18-49 demo compared to last year.

Media agency Carat did an analysis of the network’s holiday specials and found that Rudolph on CBS and Santa Claus is Coming to Town on ABC were the only animated series to increase their viewers and 18-49 demo rating. Rudolph was by far the most-watched, drawing 11.3 million viewers, up from 10.1 last year, and a 3.0 18-49 rating, up 5.6%. Among adults 25-54, Rudolph was up 11.4% to a 4.1. Santa Claus Is Coming to Town drew 5.8 million viewers, up 3.4%, but its demo rating dropped from a 1.7 to a 1.6.

One of the newest animated kids’ Christmas shows, Elf on a Shelf (CBS), which first aired in 2011, saw its viewership drop 53.5% to 2.8 million, and Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer (CW), which first aired in 2000, drew only 1.1 million viewers, down 27.9%.

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer first aired in 1964, while Santa Claus is Coming to Town was first broadcast in 1970.

Other specials posted similar results. Frosty The Snowman (CBS), which first aired in 1969, was down just 0.8% in viewers, drawing 6.7 million, but it was down 13.3% in the 18-49 demo, which meant fewer parents were watching with their kids. And the newer spinoff animated version, Frosty Returns (CBS), which was first broadcast in 1992, declined 28.9% in viewers to 4.1 million and 32.3% in the 18-49 demo to a 1.1.

Also drawing many lower totals than last holiday season were the Charlie Brown animated specials on ABC. A Charlie Brown Christmas drew a solid 7.1 million viewers, but that was down 20.1%, while among viewers 18-49, it recorded a 1.9 rating, down 35% from last year. Even ABC’s airing of How The Grinch Stole Christmas was down by 38.2% in the demo.

But why did Rudolph do so well while some of the newer animated shows bled viewers? Billie Gold, VP, director of buying/programming research at Carat, believes the older classics still resonate with parents who also grew up watching them. She also believes that Rudolph offers kids a message that is still important today.

“I think at the heart [of the] message of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer is an anti-bullying message, one of acceptance, teaching kids that what makes one different can also make them special,” Gold says. “I think in this day and age it is a message that parents want to strongly enforce in their kids given the current climate involving bullying.”

It seems that the number of kids watching the animated specials remained relatively consistent, but it was their parents that did not join in to watch the telecasts.

Gold sees a possible reason why. She points out that the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade on NBC reached an 11-year high in viewers this year and the annual NBC Christmas in Rockefeller Center also produced stronger ratings. In addition, the NBC live performance of The Sound of Music this month scored a big audience, drawing more than 18 million viewers and a 4.6 18-49 rating.

“We have theorized about this and the conclusion we come to is that people want to be part of the in-time conversation that surrounds live events,” Gold says. “No one’s on Facebook or Twitter commenting about a holiday repeat of Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer but they are commenting about the newest song the Goo Goo Dolls performed during the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, or how bad Carrie Underwood’s acting was on the live airing of The Sound of Music. In a world where you can pretty much watch anything at any time with VOD, DVR, YouTube and Netflix at your disposal, live events are the one place that everyone’s in on the action and conversation at the same time.”

So with most of these animated kids specials down in viewership, particularly in the adult demos this season, do they still hold value to advertisers?

Gold says she does not believe the animated kids specials are as important as they once were, however she adds that many advertisers still like running commercials in them because the audience is likely to be families watching together.

“I’ve done research in the past that showed that these animated specials have more moms watching with kids which is always desirable, especially to advertising aiming at that audience around the holidays,” she says. “There’s something to be said for programs that can produce those coviewing audiences of moms and kids. That’s a hard audience to reach in primetime, especially on the broadcast networks, so I’m sure the networks will continue running them.”

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