For Streaming Audiences, Holiday Cheer Can’t Come Early Enough

The Christmas creep seems to gain ground every year. Retailers, eager to wring as much out of the holiday season as possible, begin putting seasonal decorations and offerings out for display as early as Labor Day — and by mid-October it’s not unusual to see Santa Claus and a creepy killer clown staring at each other across the aisle of your local superstore.  

For many consumers, however, the holiday season doesn’t officially begin until they sit down to watch one of their favorite holiday films or programs. New research from Roku — America’s No. 1 TV streaming platform in terms of hours streamed — finds that viewers are kicking things off a lot earlier than the traditional start of the festive season.  

Officially, the holiday season begins the day after Thanksgiving. But after the stress and hardships of the last few years, many people are looking to stretch the joys of the holiday season a bit further. And with streaming services, they’re able to do so. 

By mid-October, searches for holiday content start to increase. Last year, on average, the date when holiday searches first began appearing was Oct. 19. By the week of Thanksgiving, searches for holiday titles accounted for 22% of all searches across all age demographics.  

The Long Holiday Tail 

That interest in holiday films doesn’t die down until the beginning of February. In fact, the first week of January ranked as the 11th most popular week of the calendar year for holiday title searches – making January even more popular than September in terms of streaming searches. So, while some people might grumble about neighbors leaving their lights and decorations up long past Dec. 25, that frustration doesn’t seem to carry over to their viewing habits.  

“Dec. 25 is not the last date for marketers to promote holiday content,” says David Hardin, senior manager of ad sales, media and entertainment. “It pays to continue promoting comfort viewing in the weeks following Christmas to appeal to streamers who want to hold onto the holiday spirit as they gear up for the new year.” 

Similarly, it appears the notion of a Christmas movie is broader in scope than many realize. While the films you’d expect to see, such as “Home Alone” and “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation,” certainly appear in the top searched titles, other movies, which are set in a cold environment or have even just a few holiday scenes, are regularly searched for at this time of year.  

“Meet Me in St. Louis,” for example, saw a 298% month over month increase in searches between November and December across 2020 and 2021, while “Little Women” saw significant gains (174% greater month-over-month for the 1994 version, and 70% for the 2019 adaptation); “Trading Spaces” saw a 198% surge during those same time periods. 

Spreading the Wealth 

If one film in a franchise has a strong holiday theme, audiences are often inspired to revisit other entries in the series as well. The seasonal popularity of “Die Hard,” for example, bumped up searches for “Die Hard 2” by 349% month over month between November and December for the past two years. In fact, all entries in the franchise saw a better than 200% bump. “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” had a similar effect, with the franchise’s “European Vacation” seeing a 127% increase in searches and “Vegas Vacation” climbing 62%.  

As for the most popular films? Santa takes a back seat to Buddy the Elf, Kevin McCallister and the Grinch. Given the holidays are about nostalgia and tradition, older films tend to also dominate searches – how old, though, depends on who’s looking. Gen Z is more likely to look for films from the 2000s, while people over the age of 65 are 40% more likely to look for something from the 1940s.  

Just 7.6% of holiday searches are for recent holiday titles released in the 2020s. For marketers, this is a good opportunity to highlight back catalog content and highlight different titles to different demographics during the holiday season.  

“The definition of a Christmas movie has loosened in the streaming era. Marketers can increase watch time and keep streamers engaged on their service by promoting full movie franchises beyond just the title that’s a Christmas hit,” says Jon Merkin, head of media and entertainment analytics. “Christmas doesn’t have to be front and center in a movie’s plot to get streamers into the holiday spirit.” 

October’s Top 10 Searches on Roku 

Speaking of holidays, the onset of Halloween brought about a big surge in interest among viewers for both scary and family-friendly “spooky season” films. Seven of the 10 most searched films had ties to the season, with box office smashes rounding out the list.  

To learn more on how marketers can activate these insights, keep reading here.

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