Can Television Compete With the Holidays?

A funny thing happens this time of year, instead of television viewership increasing as viewers seek refuge from the cooler weather and the insanity of the holidays, television viewership actually declines.  It is as if viewers go into their own form of hibernation – seeking solitude from the difficulties of their life-stressors, the holidays, and the pressure of television which inundates them with commercials showing them everything they cannot afford to buy for Christmas and all the fantastic things they cannot participate in – whether it its due to financial restrictions, time constraints, or a lack of a “significant other” to share in the holiday revelry.
Television programmers shudder a bit this time of year.  It is a great time to secure last-minute profits in the form of advertising dollars as retailers and other businesses conduct their year-end push to lure in holiday shoppers.  But it also a time when seemingly “bullet proof” television shows take significant hits in the loss of viewers.  It may be a momentary blip on the ratings radar, or it may be a sign of eroding viewership.  It is enough to give television programmers and showrunners a minor heart-attack at the sudden drop.
As we have seen in this first week of December, such top-rated shows as CASTLE, ONCE UPON A TIME and THE GOOD WIFE have suffered severe viewer loss.  What is happening?  Is it merely that television cannot compete with the holidays? Or is it a sign that there is something else going on with the television landscape?  With small ripples having potentially huge adverse financial effects and could ding a show’s chances at renewal for another season, or even getting their “back 9” order if they are still anxiously awaiting that decision, any time there is a noticeable decline in viewership everyone in Hollywood takes notice.  Viewers equate into advertising dollars, which is the life-blood of the industry.
So what is happening? Why are stellar, top-notch shows suffering from viewer retention issues.  Looking at some of the more esoteric factors, it could be a number of things.  For one, as mentioned above, it is the holidays. 
That means people are more concerned about finding the funds necessary not only for gifts, but holiday parties, traveling to see relatives, and addressing their own already-strained financial resources as the year-end looms.  Money and how to best allocate it with limited resources is a primary concern.
Next up is: time.  People who would normally be headed home for dinner and to watch a TV shows are working a few extra hours to pad their paychecks for the holidays; or they are rushing off to malls and other stores to locate gifts or making stops at mailing centers to get their packages shipped.  They are also finding that work holiday parties and social engagements are also further encroaching on their available time — not to mention the time crunch added by traveling to visit relatives, family and other loved ones.  The Thanksgiving through New Year’s time period is the most time-strapped time of the year.  And television becomes a lower priority in the face of such demands.
In addition, new technology has made it easier and less guilt-ridden to skip your favorite TV shows because one relies on their DVRs to record their shows or in knowing that they can catch up online if they miss an episode or two.
The deadly trio of money-constraints, time-constraints and ease of watching television shows at a later time has skewered television ratings.  It is not a wonder that several TV shows go on mid-season hiatus before Thanksgiving, as they know that it simply is not worthwhile to devalue their prized cash-cow television shows by forcing them to compete with the holidays.
Holidays are a unique phenomena.  Due to the popularity and deeply-entrenched belief in the sanctity of holiday traditions, television is on the losing end in the tug-of-war for viewers’ attention. 
There is also one other detrimental factor:  the Oscars.  Television is not only competing against personal factors, such as: time, money and traditions – they are competing against the film industry.  The last six weeks of the year are completely saturated with big-name, big-draw films that are seeking to secure acclaim and buzz before the award season ballots are collected – for example, both the SAG and Golden Globe nominations will be announced next week.  In addition, to be an Oscar contender, a film must be released before the end of the year.  So film studios who have slaved and tweaked their films all year and have gently pre-released them to film festivals around the globe to test the waters, then make a last-ditch effort to lure viewers out of their homes and into movie theaters.  The number of films released between Thanksgiving and Christmas Day is incredible.  Thus, the increased competition from the film industry also cuts into the available television audience.
In addition to the Oscar-fare there are also such hotly anticipated films like MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: GHOST PROTOCOL and SHERLOCK HOLMES 2 debuting in December.  So not only are the studios are pulling out all the stops to get their films released for the Oscars, they are hoping to secure some of those extra holiday dollars that consumers are willing to spend.
Does television really stand a chance when it must fight so hard for viewers this time of year?  Looking at the latest round of television ratings, it would appear that the average television show does not have a chance.  It is therefore much safer for television programmers to jam their schedules with specials and once-a-year performances, which may draw a few more viewers than average.  But the regular TV shows are on the losing end.  It is time for them to take a holiday break and enjoy their hiatus and leave the heavy-lifting to shows that do not have to struggle to keep up a 22-episode ratings average.  Let’s protect our TV shows and move them out of harm’s way. 
The holidays are brutal on the pocketbook, a nightmare for time scheduling, and can be known as “show killers” if programmers are not careful.  I am of the thought that if the holidays have the potential for killing or damaging one of my treasured TV shows, it is better to enjoy a nice long holiday break rather than lose my favorite shows altogether.  I am willing to wait.

Tiffany Vogt is a contributing writer to TheTVAddict. She has a great love for television and firmly believes that entertainment is a world of wondrous adventures that deserves to be shared and explored – she invites you to join her. Please feel free to contact Tiffany at or follow her at on Twitter (@TVWatchtower).

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