Who Won The War for Christmas?

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(Update: Nielsen’s data only came out today, because they dropped their fascinating “Nielsen Streaming Unwrapped 2022” report yesterday. I can’t wait to dive into that data. Luckily, I promised you a deep dive in Christmas films last week, so that’s what you’re getting today. On Monday, you’ll get this week’s Streaming Ratings Report like normal.)

This year, Christmas fell on a Sunday, the last day of the Nielsen rating period. As such, the full week before Christmas—remember, the Nielsen viewing period starts on a Monday and goes through Sunday each week—was dominated by Christmas titles; eight of the ten film titles were a beloved Christmas classic:

And by the next week, the week starting 26-Dec? Literally, no Christmas films. 

I’m glad I waited a week to be sure we didn’t have any lingering Christmas titles. (As a reminder, Nielsen has a four week delay on reporting viewership, so we didn’t get Christmas data until literally last week.) I’m also happy that, this year, we have data from seven of the nine major streamers in the weekly Nielsen rankings, so we have our most complete look at how these beloved titles perform. (Remember, HBO Max and Peacock let Nielsen release their rankings in 2022. But not Paramount+. Yet.)

So that’s my mission today: analyze how Christmas films performed in 2022. Back in December, over at The Ankler, I used the data to determine the most Christmas popular films of all time. Today, I’m looking at how those films (and their streamers) performed in the 2022 season specifically, plus the new contenders for the “Christmas Canon”.

I’ve organized things into three sections:

– New Titles That Made the Rankings
– Library Titles
– Christmas “Dogs Not Barking”

New Christmas Films (And a TV Series) That Made the Rankings

Every year, our entertainment (and now streaming) conglomerates try to release new Christmas classics. As I’ve written before, in one of my favorite pieces ever, every evolution of the entertainment industry (from theaters to broadcast to home entertainment to cable to streaming) has featured a new set of Christmas titles.

The streamers know this, which is why, every holiday season, they’re deluging us with more Christmas films than we know what to do with. 

So did any succeed? Let’s find out, in order of most successful to least. I won’t rank these films on one specific metric, but on a combination of different measurement sources, like Nielsen, TV Time and IMDb, and then round it out with my gut opinion.

The most successful new Christmas show or film might actually be Disney’s new Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special. It’s short (only a 41 minute run time), so that’s the type of show that really will struggle to make the Nielsen charts. But it had a great run on TV Time’s Film charts:

It also has a 6.9 on 63K reviews. That just verges on the “great” score of a 7 on IMDb, but that’s also a really high number of reviews. (As a huge Marvel fan, I will likely rewatch this for years to come.)

Netflix had two successful Christmas “romcoms” (derivations of the Hallmark/Lifetime Christmas movie genre): Falling For Christmas and The Noel Diary. They led the pack of “first run Christmas streaming films in 2022” with 23.8 and 20.4 million hours over the November to December period. Two other Netflix holiday romance titles made the charts, Christmas with You and I Believe in Santa, but only for one week and on the low end of the rankings.

(Reminder: The Santa Clauses is a TV show. See below.)

One note: all of the Netflix romance or romcom films rank did horribly in terms of IMDb ratings, with the highest score a 6.1 (The Noel Diary) and the lowest a 4.4 (I Believe in Santa) with the other two in the 5 range. (Of course, I don’t usually track Hallmark/Lifetime movies, so these may be par for the course.)

Next, I’d say Spirited on Apple TV+ was the next most popular holiday title, which was the biggest surprise of the season for me. Apple TV+ hadn’t had a show make the rankings in 2022 until Spirited. (Yes, that’s a long time.) Spirited had two huge stars, and a classic Christmas movie formula, so I could see it hanging around in future Christmases, similar to The Christmas Chronicles for Netflix. (Though I was surprised it didn’t make the rankings this year…maybe if we had a Nielsen top 15 list…)

As I covered in November, Apple said it’s their biggest film so far, by some undisclosed metric. It made the rankings for one week during Thanksgiving, which for a service as small as Apple, is something.

I have more questions on whether or not The Santa Clauses is a success for Disney+. It missed the rankings in its first week, then made the charts in its 2nd through sixth weeks of release. It’s the rare Christmas “TV Show” that we don’t see, often, but it still had 32.2 million hours of total viewing. On the one hand, this is only the second Disney TV show that isn’t Marvel or Star Wars to make the rankings. On the other, that’s still pretty small viewership for a TV show. And it doesn’t have many IMDb reviews, a 6.3 on 7.9K, though that happens with kids shows and films. 

Overall, this feels like a TV show that should have been a movie that went to theaters. 

Netflix had one other title make the charts, Scrooge: A Christmas Carol. This reboot didn’t look like it had great animation, to my eye, and it has a 6.2 on 5.4K reviews, so kids may not agree. But at least these titles made the Nielsen rankings for at least one week. I would add, Prime Video’s Something From Tiffany’s made the TV time charts for one week as did Netflix’s Who Killed Santa? A Murderville Murder Mystery (At 52 mins, this title was pretty short, which might explain why it didn’t make the Nielsen charts.), so they both escaped the “Dog Not Barking” fate.

Library Titles That Made the Rankings

If you’ve ever watched a Christmas movie, you know two things:

1. That lonely business exec will fall in love when she returns to her charming, rural hometown.

2. Christmas is wayyyyyyy too corporate.

From A Christmas Carol to Scrooged to Elf to The Grinch to A Charlie Brown Christmas to literally every Christmas film, tells us this, yet ironically they tell us this while being…big business!

And when it comes to streaming, library titles still drive the biggest business. Here’s the Christmas films chart from above with the “library” titles, those older than two years:

My take on the most popular Christmas titles at The Ankler aged pretty well. In general, I’d say that some combination of Home Alone (and sequels), Elf, How the Grinch Stole Christmas! (and remakes), National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, A Charlie Brown ChristmasIt’s a Wonderful Life and A Christmas Story are the “Christmas Canon” now. (A Charlie Brown Christmas is probably too short to show up on the Nielsen charts, but it’s so beloved that Apple TV+ has to give it away for free lest customers riot.)

Samba TV ran an analysis of holiday titles (looking at unique households viewing) that has a similar list:

Oh what’s that? Where’s Die Hard? Is it a Christmas film? Well, Samba TV gave us this data point on it:

And note, these films are not young. (And writing this made me feel old…)

  • Elf – 2003 (20 years old)
  • Home Alone – 1990 (33 years old)
  • National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation – 1989 (34 years old)
  • A Christmas Story – 1983 (40 years old)
  • How the Grinch Stole Christmas! – 1966 (57 years old)
  • A Charlie Brown Christmas – 1965 (58 years old)
  • It’s A Wonderful Life – 1946 (77 years old)

Some of these titles won’t actually be points of strengths for some streamers in the future. HBO Max doesn’t own How The Grinch Stole Christmas!; that’s a Universal title. They do own National Lampoon Christmas Vacation, Elf and A Christmas Story, but interestingly those have all departed HBO Max already, in their strange bid to move stuff on and off the platform to save money somehow.

New Films That Flopped

So that’s the good news. But I wouldn’t be the Entertainment Strategy Guy if I didn’t note all the Christmas films that flopped, meaning never made a ranking I track. (What I call a “Dog Not Barking”.) Here’s my list in a few different categories. 

First, Netflix:

Christmas on Mistletoe Farm
The Action Pack Saves Christmas
Christmas Full of Grace
I Hate Christmas
A Storm For Christmas
– Delivery by Christmas
The Boss Baby: Christmas Bonus

And now HBO Max:

– A Christmas Mystery
– A Hollywood Christmas
– Holiday Harmony
– Sesame Street: The Nutcracker

And Disney+:

– The Hip Hop Nutcracker
– Pentatonix: Around the World for the Holidays

And lastly, Prime Video.

Your Christmas or Mine?

I would note, this isn’t an exhaustive list, merely the titles I try to collect each week. I may have missed a few titles, so this is the floor not the ceiling.

Also, I’m not that worried about the kids shows which missed the rankings. Both The Action Pack Saves Christmas and Sesame Street: The Nutcracker were short, and really kid focused, so it’s not a surprise. The latter title happened to be the hit of the year in my house.

Want a prediction? I have a feeling this is what we’ll see for the next few years: most of the Christmas viewing will focus on classic library titles. But the streamers will keep deluging us with new films. And a small portion of these will break through.

The Entertainment Strategy Guy

The Entertainment Strategy Guy

Former strategy and business development guy at a major streaming company. But I like writing more than sending email, so I launched this website to share what I know.


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