How Seasonal Viewership Trends Can Shape Your Holiday TV Strategy


Corey Rice
Content Marketing Strategist
Sep 20, 2019

Seasonality plays an important role in media strategy, and the holidays are perhaps the most critical time to optimize cross-screen campaigns in order to capitalize on viewership shifts and maximize exposure to consumers. As with holiday purchase habits, holiday TV consumption habits shift to align with changing work/family schedules and programming across broadcast and cable. 

Linear TV commercial schedules are locked-in, but applying TV data to cross-screen digital campaigns is an effective and savvy strategy to address the seasonality of holiday television with a tactical approach for gaining incremental reach. 

Samba TV analyzed historical viewership data from 10/1/18 – 12/31/18 to address two pressing questions for advertisers:

How does television viewership change during the holiday season?

What TV data strategies can advertisers activate in response?

Our analysis includes four network groups that experience viewership fluctuation during the holiday season:

  • Broadcast (ABC, NBC, CBS)
  • Lifestyle (Hallmark, Freeform, Lifetime)
  • Sports (ESPN, TBS)
  • Cable News (MSNBC, Fox News)

Broadcast Networks


First let’s look at the major broadcast networks. According to Samba TV data, during the 2018 holiday season ABC, NBC and CBS all experienced declines in viewership starting after Thanksgiving, which in-turn negatively impacts commercial reach through the end of the year. 


Counter the drop-off in broadcast network engagement by targeting viewers that are unexposed to your brand’s TV spots on ABC, NBC and CBS—or those that were exposed to a competitor’s. Samba TV can provide incremental reach beyond linear by applying these custom segments to a digital campaign.(Recommended flight: 11/15 – 12/31)

Lifestyle Networks


Conversely, lifestyle cable networks that typically switch to holiday programming early in the season saw viewership increases—particularly the Hallmark Channel which begins to stack its schedule with Christmas-themed content in late October. Both Disney and TBS also see sharp spikes on Christmas and offer a direct conduit to reach family viewers. 


Draft off the viewership increase on lifestyle networks to reach consumers while they’re engaged with holiday programming—specifically Hallmark, Freeform and Lifetime. Execute short flights on Disney and TBS to capture Christmas Day viewers. (Recommended flight 10/15 – 12/31) 



Although it’s not holiday-specific, ESPN and TBS enjoy Q4 viewership increases due to sports fans tuning-in for the World Series, NBA kick-off and College Football playoffs. ESPN in particular is an effective opportunity to reach college football fans during the end-of-year bowl game blitz and related viewership jump. 


Advertisers can take a broad approach to maximize scale and target all sports viewers, which aligns your brand with the NBA season launch, World Series, Thanksgiving Football and College Football playoffs. Brands seeking granular sports TV audiences can select specific leagues and game broadcasts for precision and engagement. (Recommended flight 9/15 – 12/31) 

Cable News


Cable news viewers begin a slow but steady decline in engagement as the holiday season progresses, which becomes more pronounced closer to Christmas. Fox News in particular, which typically drives the highest overall cable news HH viewership, suffers a steep decline in mid/late December.   


Broad targeting against viewers of each major cable news network can help brands sustain reach with political and news-oriented audiences during the holiday season. Samba TV also has syndicated viewership segments aligned with presidential debate viewers to further extend political TV audience incremental reach. (Recommended flight 11/15 – 12/31) 

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