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On the Third Book of Christmas …

December 2, 2021

This year Christmas is a lot different. I’m not talking about the pandemic or supply chain issues. In a normal year, the onslaught of Christmas music on the radio affects two PPM surveys – December and Holiday.

However, Nielsen adjusted the schedule this year so the recently-released or soon-to-be-released (depending on your market) November book began later than normal. The survey ran from 10/14 through 11/10. In many markets across the country, the flip to all Saint Nick began during the first 10 days of November. That means that weeks three and four will be affected by those format changes.

Furthermore, that means, for this season, the stain of Christmas music will affect three surveys. The entire December book will be blanketed by the haunting melodies of Burl Ives, while about half of the holiday book will be similarly affected.

What does this mean for broadcasters?

There is no question that the flip to an all-holiday format has a dramatic effect on the ratings fortunes of not only the flipper, but stations with a similar demographic profile. If last year is any indication, we saw these format flips did not draw new cume to most markets. It merely rearranged the quarter hours in favor of the Santa stations.

This is the season when many programmers already discount December and Holiday. This year they will have to view the November results in the same light. It will be difficult to evaluate the effect that any on-air changes had on the numbers. The reality is that the October book is the last “real” snapshot of the market. That means there could be a three-month period where the numbers will come with an asterisk.

What can you do about this?

If you subscribe to the weeklies, you can track the changes as the big day approaches. The Christmas effect gets stronger as we get closer to Santa’s arrival. If your competition flipped on 11/1, that still means 18 days of the book were unaffected. That can tell you if the audience has already begun to migrate. Or if the change was too early to make a difference.

If you are one of our programming clients, you have the advantage of looking at your Exact Age and Hot Zip reports. You can often see exactly who has left and where they went. Being armed with this knowledge can better prepare you to recapture your fans who wandered off in search of that silent night.

As an industry we have enough history with this phenomenon. We know there really is no defense against an all-holiday station. This is especially true in markets where that station has established itself as THE choice for Christmas music. In rare situations – I’m looking at you, Seattle – there are multiple choices that can water down the overall effect of the switch. That said, while Santa may be known for giving, he also takes away.

The second “truth” is that as soon as the holiday is over, the Santa stations revert to their former selves. Sometimes they are left in a better position than before the change, but no one has yet cracked the code on keeping that massive amount of cume from going back to its previous habits.

It will be interesting to see how this all plays out. As a reminder, the January survey begins releasing on 2/22/22.

-Steve Allan, Programming Research Consultant