For the hundreds of stations in the U.S. turning to all-Christmas music for the holiday season, it really is the most wonderful time of the year, especially when Nielsen's ratings for the Holiday PPM survey period are released. And 2021 looks to be more of the same.
During 2020's Holiday book, not only did 14 major market stations in all-Christmas mode deliver double-digit 6+ shares, but seven of those stations – including Adult Contemporary stations like iHeartMedia's KOST Los Angeles and WLIT Chicago, Bonneville's KOIT San Francisco and Audacy's WMJX Boston – hit their highest shares with holiday music in six years. And in times like these when consumers really do need a little Christmas, especially while waiting for gifts to show up amid the current supply chain crisis, records like those were made to be broken.
Looking across Nielsen’s PPM markets for 6+ full week, AC had a 14.2% share in the Holiday 2020 book across PPM markets. This was down from the record 14.8% share in Holiday 2019.
That Adult Contemporary is the format from which stations are most likely to flip is no surprise. “AC is the most appropriate format for All-Christmas music,” radio consultant John Lund says. “It has the most significant number of Christmas songs, and the format represents both gold and contemporary music.” Ratings performance during December, of course, backs up that strategy. “When our adult contemporary and some of our classic hits stations flip to Christmas music in November, we actually double the size of our audience,” iHeartMedia President of Programming Operations Jon Zellner said during the company's "Sleigh The Holidays" webinar earlier this year. “We generally see an increase of between 10-12 million listeners during that time and the week before Christmas, in some markets its even higher.”
According to Precision Trak/Inside Radio data, the number of all-Christmas stations in any given year has averaged around 450. This year, nearly 300 stations had already flipped before Thanksgiving weekend, with more expected to do so over the holiday and in early December.
Making things even more interesting are the close to 50 radio markets where two or more stations are battling it out with all-Christmas formats. That situation already exists in at least eight top-50 markets, such as in Philadelphia, where Audacy AC WBEB and iHeart Soft AC WISX are on a sleigh-ride to the finish, and Tampa, where Cox Media Group Soft AC WDUV goes antler-to-antler with iHeart AC WMTX.
As was the case during 2020, when COVID at its worst and the Presidential election at its most dramatic drove many stations to flip earlier than usual, there are plenty of reasons to believe listeners will want to escape to a land of red-nosed reindeer and decking the halls. “It's really not just about the music,” iHeart's Zellner says. “Our stations truly reflect all things Christmas in their local communities.You’ll hear children’s voices telling us what they want Santa to bring them [and] parents reflecting about their favorite Christmas memories growing up. It’s the one time in the year that these brands really become around-the-clock, must-listen radio stations.”