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It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year

October 10, 2013

Sleigh Bells Ring

Can you hear it? Shhhh … listen. Ring a ling a ling … hear the bells?  That’s the sound of the Program Director chomping at the bit to start playing Christmas music NOW if they could.  But, stop it, you overzealous musical powers that be. We’ve barely packed away our bathing suits. (♪♪ hmmm … hmmm … Margaritaville … ♪ ♪)

The Holidays Are Big Business

Sure, I get it.  There is much to be gained by playing Christmas music earlier and earlier.  Sidebar: Did you know the winter holiday accounts for nearly $580 billion in sales? (Advertising Age, “105 Days ‘til Christmas: Kmart Airs First Holiday Ad”, 9/11/13) So perhaps there is a method to the musical genius madness.  But, there is something a bit more interesting going on here.

Why Is Christmas Music Starting Earlier and Earlier?

I think I get why more and more stations are playing Christmas music earlier and earlier.  Or do I?  At first I thought Radio stations were conducting surveys and found that consumers (cough, cough) I mean human beings were getting into the holiday spirit much earlier.  All grandma-who-got-run-over-by-a-reindeer really wanted was to hear her Silent Night earlier and often as she healed while roasting chestnuts on the open fire.  Then I considered that perhaps it’s because retailers are antsy to get out of the gate with their marketing and sales efforts before the dust even settled from Back-To-School sales (those Target commercials were kind of cute with the school band and all playing MUSIC).  And then I thought, hmm … that radio stations just want to beat their competitors to the punch. But, could there be some other element driving this?

What’s Really Going On?  ♪ ♪ Hmm … What’s Going On? ♪ ♪ (sorry, I digress, not a Christmas song)

Radio stations that play Christmas music (but not limited to) have typically relied on the Fall book to help sell their station, but there has been some interesting movement taking place.  Let’s observe Exhibit A:

Year Start Date of Nielsen Fall Survey End Date of Nielsen Fall Survey # of Days Survey Ended Before Christmas Start Date of Christmas Music on Two Major Market Radio Stations # of Days Christmas Music Is Played During the Fall Survey
2006 9/21 12/13 12 days 11/20 24
2007 9/20 12/12 13 days 11/21 22
2008 9/18 12/10 15 days 11/21 20
2009 9/17 12/9 16 days 11/20 20
2010 9/16 12/8 17 days 11/19 20
2011 9/15 12/7 18 days 11/18 20
2012 9/13 12/5 20 days 11/16 20
2013 9/12 12/4 21 days
2014 9/11 12/3 22 days


In 2006, the Fall book started 9/21/06 and ended 12/13/06. The survey ended 12 days before Christmas.  And, Christmas music began playing on some major market radio stations on 11/20/06. That means Christmas music played for 24 days of the Fall book in 2006.  Fast forward to 2012.   The Fall book started 9/13/12 and ended 12/5/12, a full eight days earlier. More importantly, the Fall Diary and December PPM books ended 20 days before Christmas.  That’s almost a whole three prime weeks of no diary measurement because of the big gap with the Winter 2013 survey not starting until January 3. Therefore, almost a month of holiday/Christmas music isn’t measured in the Diary world. (You still with me?  Hold on a moment.  I know there is a lot of fuzzy math going on.)  And, although Christmas music typically began playing four days earlier compared to 2006, it was only played for 20 days of the Fall book in 2012.  And, the beat goes on (there I go again, not staying the course) in 2013 and 2014. Whoa!

The reality is everyone is doing it (♪♪ the birds and the bees ♪ ♪).  It, meaning shifting dates and starting early and driving everyone crazy.  More than 100 days (105 to be exact on September 9) before Christmas, retailers such as Kmart started running commercials promoting their holiday layaway program.  A few bahhumbuggers took to Kmart’s Facebook page complaining about the early start.  This was the earliest start ever for a holiday marketing campaign and Kmart actually apologized to their Facebook fans, or not fans. (Advertising Age, “105 Days ‘til Christmas: Kmart Airs First Holiday Ad”, 9/11/13)  And, my thought is, afterwards they went back in their 2014 Holiday brainstorming meeting (stay tuned).

How This Could Affect Christmas Music Stations

Christmas music is big business for a large number of radio stations.  For many stations, particularly those in the Adult Contemporary format, this is the most lucrative time of year.  Higher cume and TSL during this time of the year drives stations.  And, stations that are known as “THE” Christmas music station in their market and have their strategy down to a science tend to experience their billing going through the roof.  Branding and marketing well before the holiday season is everything to them.  But, if Nielsen Audio continues to decrease the number of the days in the diary world, Christmas Music stations will continue to lose out on the higher ratings that are so important to them.  PPM is in a better position because at least those stations have the Holiday book to rely on, which starts immediately after the December book ends.

Ultimately, I don’t really know the reason Christmas music continues to be moved up on the calendar each year (or was that what this was really all about?).  What I do know is there continues to be a demand for Christmas music (I love Christmas music; I just don’t want to hear it while trick-or-treating).  Nielsen Audio will need to make adjustments, otherwise the Fall book will end up in the summer at some point (and don’t we already have enough to deal with in terms of Global Warming, etc.)?

Fear Not, Oh Thee Christmas Music Stations

The holiday season is an important time of year for consumers and retailers.  On Thanksgiving and Christmas Day, there will always be consumers, I mean human beings, who want to hear their favorite/nostalgic Christmas songs while basting their already-dried-up turkeys and doing their egg-nog-induced sing-a-longs (I made a rhyme, sorta).  And, as long as that continues to exist, there will always be a place for radio stations that brand themselves as “The Christmas Music Station” regardless of whether they are being measured or not.

Well, carry on! I know I took up too much of your time. Go WOW!!! your holiday prospects by showing how great your station is during Christmas music time and sell a big spot package or two. There are gifts to be paid for. ON DANCER AND PRANCER …

-Kathryn C. Boxill, Radio Sales Research Manager