Family audiences seldom lack for programming options during this time of year when there is a wealth of family-friendly content available on both broadcast and cable television. There are original holiday-themed movies on Hallmark; G-rated box office hits like “Toy Story” and “Finding Nemo” on Freeform (formerly ABC Family); perennial favorites like “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” and “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” which have won over generations of young fans; colorized episodes of “I Love Lucy” and “The Dick Van Dyke Show”; the Kennedy Center Honors; Tree-lighting ceremonies at Rockefeller Center and The White House; live musicals on NBC; and so on.
By the middle of January this wealth of family-friendly entertainment will disappear. But why should that be, when the family audiences that enjoyed them haven’t disappeared?
We keep hearing that family programming isn’t profitable for the networks, but that argument defies credibility, when holiday specials consistently pull in high ratings. Over the years, there have been countless examples of a family program drawing substantially higher audience numbers than the hot, trendy, buzzed-about shows the networks want us to watch. A rerun of “I Love Lucy” on CBS drew a bigger audience than the much-hyped series finale of “Mad Men.” “The Sound of Music Live” broke all kinds of ratings records for NBC. “The Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show” usually pulls-in fewer viewers than “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.”
Many families have abandoned network and cable TV altogether, in favor of over-the-top and streaming services where they feel they are less likely to have their values challenged, they have better control over content, and are less likely to encounter offensive or indecent programming by mistake. But many of those same families will revisit the channels they’ve abandoned during this time of year to share the holiday specials they grew-up watching with their own children.
If the networks want to stop hemorrhaging viewers, and bring some of those audiences back into their fold, not just for a month or two, but for the whole year, they might consider looking at their holiday programming strategy, and applying it year-round.