Behind our obsession with holiday programming - Industry Voices: Grines

Kirby Grines Industry Voices

Holiday movies have become the backbone of how Americans celebrate the winter season. From classics such as “It’s A Wonderful Life” and “Miracle on 34th Street” to more modern favorites like “Elf” and “Home Alone,” Americans are obsessed with the holiday movie genre. And while decorating a tree and baking cookies might be more traditional activities, nothing lights up our winter nights quite like curling up with a holiday movie.

And while we may not always agree on which is best or if “Die Hard” is even a holiday movie (it is), there’s one agreement we can come to -- watching holiday movies (72%) is more beloved than either decorating the tree (66%) or baking cookies (55%). At least according to new research conducted by OnePoll on behalf of the streaming service Plex.

favorite holiday tradition _ 43twenty

The study surveyed 2,000 Americans and revealed that a majority (52%) feel that their holiday season would not be complete without their favorite movies. The same amount says watching holiday films is a great way to bond with family.

So what are we watching? According to the poll:

America’s Top 3 Holiday Movies

  • It’s a Wonderful Life (43%)
  • A Charlie Brown Christmas (42%)
  • Home Alone (42%)

America’s Top 3 Non-Traditional Holiday Movies

  • Die Hard (25%)
  • Frozen (23%)
  • The Sound of Music (21%)

America’s Top 3 Holiday Movie Characters

  • Kevin Mcallister - Home Alone (30%)
  • The Grinch (29%)
  • Clark Griswold - National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation (26%)

Top Holiday TV Specials + Episodes

  • Best holiday-themed TV special: Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (60%)
  • Most popular holiday-themed TV episode: Friends “The One With the Holiday Armadillo” (19%)

So What's Behind Our Love, Actually?

Why are we so obsessed with holiday movies, often cheesy with cringeworthy one-liners and predictable plotlines? The bottom line is that holiday movies make just us happy, and that's especially important during the cold winter when people are more likely to feel down or lonely. The proof is in the figgy pudding.

A sense of nostalgia

One of the main reasons viewers tune into holiday programming is because it brings back a sense of nostalgia, taking us to a simpler time. For many viewers, holiday movies provide a welcome escape from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. As such, the OnePoll/Plex study found that 63% of respondents agree that even though the holidays are stressful, the nostalgia of holiday movies can help them relax, forget their worries, and just enjoy the moment.

A sense of happiness

The poll also revealed that 56% turn to holiday films because they make them feel happy.

Happiness is a complex concept with no single definition, but it can generally be broken into two main categories: hedonic and eudaimonic. Hedonic happiness focuses on short-term pleasures—for example, enjoying the taste of a piece of chocolate or feeling satisfied after accomplishing a goal. On the other hand, Eudaimonic happiness is derived from long-term fulfillment and a sense of purpose in life. Both types of happiness are essential for overall well-being and holiday movies provide us with both styles as they help us to connect with our loved ones and get in touch with our deepest values.

A sense of familiarity

On top of that, holiday programming provides us with familiarity in an ever-changing world.  The predictability of the plotlines provides us with comfort and solace in the face of uncertainty. We can always count on our favorite holiday movies to trigger memories and shared experiences that make the holidays more meaningful.

We love holiday movies because they tap into real emotions, no matter how unbelievable or simplistic they may be.

A sense of togetherness

Finally, viewers turn to holiday films because of a sense of togetherness. The survey found that 57% said they watch these movies to feel closer to their family and friends.

The Holiday Streaming Wars

OnePoll/Plex found that about forty percent (39%) of Americans binge-watch more during the holidays than any other time of year, which shouldn't be surprising. Days are shorter and colder (for most of us), and we're spending more time inside. And like we saw during COVID, the more we're inside, the more we're streaming.

Offering compelling holiday programming can help bring in new customers and give them a reason to stay. As such, 34% of OnePoll/Plex respondents would subscribe to a particular service if it provided access to their favorite holiday movies.

Whip Media recently surveyed 4,500 U.S consumers who use its TV Time app and found that over 70% of respondents consider themselves “TV holiday movie consumers.” Netflix was cited as the most popular streaming service for holiday programming, followed by Disney+ and Hulu.

Hubs for the holidays

Unarguably, 2022 was the year of FAST. Kagan, the media research division at S&P Global Market Intelligence, expects FAST revenue in the United States to reach $4 billion in 2022 and more than double to approximately $9 billion by 2026.

FAST platforms have all leaned into the holiday craze. For example, Pluto TV and Xumo have launched holiday-themed sections of channels in their programming grids in "Season's Greetings" and "Holiday Hub," Respectively. On the other hand, VIZIO is turning up its annual holiday hub, dubbed "Winter Watchland," which can be found on the home screen of its SmartCast TVs. The company also uses the hub to drive viewers to its free ad-supported streaming TV (FAST) service, WatchFree+, with seasonal exclusives and premieres.

Pop-up channels

Roku's FAST, The Roku Channel, also has a holiday hub, "Seasons Streaming," and pop-up channels live "Vevo Holiday" and "iHeartChristmas."

Pop-up channels are created for a limited period and feature content relevant to a particular occasion, with no better example than the holidays. In 2020, Vevo saw its monthly CTV viewership increase 40x largely due to its holiday-themed pop-ups, with most activity happening on Christmas and News Years Eve.

Frndly TV recently launched a pop-up channel sponsored by Solo Stove, a maker of fire pits and camp stoves. The channel "Cozy Holiday Bonfire Presented by Solo Stove," is Solo Stove's take on the traditional yule log pop-up channel, except replace the fireplace with Solo Stove's "Bonfire 2.0" outdoor fire pit.

For what it's worth, 29% of OnePoll/Plex respondents stream ambient, virtual fireplaces.

Programming blocks

A formula that's been extremely successful for pay TV networks for years has been holiday-themed programming blocks. Examples include Hallmark's "Countdown to Christmas," "Lifetime's It’s a Wonderful Lifetime," Freeform's "Kickoff to Christmas," and AMC Network's "Best Christmas Ever."

These programming blocks are huge moneymakers for these networks. As the industry continues to transition to OTT, they're essential for streaming services too. Ergo, it was not entirely surprising to see Peacock strike a deal with Hallmark to stream the latter's linear and on-demand movies and TV shows.

And it's not just movies, TV shows, or Vevo's case, music videos that audiences crave.

TN Marketing, the company behind Craftsy, akin to the "Netflix" of lifestyle and instructional content, recently debuted its first FAST channel, "CraftsyTV," exclusively on Plex. During the holiday season, Craftsy has created a programming block called “Merry Making,” which features the brand's creativity-inspiring holiday-themed content.

The truth is, we love holiday programming of all shapes and sizes, no matter how predictable or simplistic. This stuff just makes us happy, entertained, and streaming services should leverage this time of year to deliver compelling content that can help them attract and retain customers that want to feel that sense of nostalgia, happiness, familiarity, and togetherness.

Whether through exclusive content, pop-up channels, holiday hubs or programming blocks, it’s the most wonderful (and lucrative) time of year - to stand out from the competition. By doing so, they'll be able to get into their viewers' hearts and minds - now and in the future.

Happy Holidays!

Kirby Grines is an entrepreneur, advisor and the founder of 43Twenty, a strategic advisory and marketing firm that accelerates growth for companies in technology, media and entertainment. He’s also the creator of “The Streaming Wars,” which is a free, weekly newsletter that curates the latest developments in the OTT video industry. Previously, Kirby was a co-founder of Float Left, an application development company, where he designed and built some of the first connected TV apps.

Industry Voices are opinion columns written by outside contributors—often industry experts or analysts—who are invited to the conversation by Fierce Video staff. They do not represent the opinions of Fierce Video.