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Maybe it’s because I’m a dad now, but I love the holidays. And as the “Entertainment Strategy Guy”, I also love diving into each streamer’s holiday selections. (And not just Christmas, but Halloween too.) I find fun little insights into everything from who’s launching new quality Originals to who has the strongest libraries to who actually takes the time to optimize their landing pages.
As I mentioned in my last Streaming Ratings Report, some “Who won Christmas?” articles came out in the middle of December, which feels way too early to me. I mean, how can you tell the audience what worked for Christmas viewing before Christmas?!?!?
Personally, I like to wait until we have all the data.
And so, with the last week of data in the books for 2023, we can finally take a look at who won the Christmas battle for streaming viewership. (If it’s the “streaming wars”, then this is just a battlefield.)
(For past articles on Christmas films and their ratings, check out my articles from 2021 and 2022. For last year’s rundown on the top Christmas films, go to The Ankler here. [Separate subscription required.] To read one my favorite articles of all time, for how the history of Christmas films tells the history of Hollywood, go to Decider here.)
Let’s dive in!
What Films “Won” Christmas 2023?
Sometimes really simple tables can illustrate your point perfectly. For example, last year I simply marked all the Christmas films on my weekly Nielsen Top Ten charts as “Christmas”, and it clearly showed the Christmas movie take over the week of Christmas:
Same goes this year. Here’s how that looks for the week of Christmas (starting 18-Dec), then the quick drop off for the week starting on Christmas day:
If you’re thinking the numbers look higher this year, your eyes don’t deceive you. This year it does look like Christmas films’ ratings took a jump up compared to past years:
Overall, I’d guess that as streaming gains in usage, Christmas films in particular benefit from the shift from linear viewing (think Freeform’s 21 Days of Christmas) to streaming (think “Holiday collections” on every streamer). Plus both Elf and Christmas Vacation‘s ratings went up, because they were both on Hulu and Max. (It turns out Netflix isn’t the only steamer who boost a film’s viewership!)
Looking at the Christmas films that came out this year—“first run” in the chart above—we didn’t have as many new holiday movies as in 2022, but Candy Cane Lane got to second place among straight-to-streaming Christmas film since 2020.
But really, Christmas is about rewatching beloved classics. Home Alone saw even higher viewership this year. (And Elf and National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, as I just mentioned.) Notably, How the Grinch Stole Christmas (the 2000 film) had fairly muted viewership this year on streaming, mainly because it didn’t show up on Peacock until the week before Christmas. If it had been streaming there all December, the viewership in 2023 likely would have gone even higher.
It’s a Wonderful Life missed the Nielsen charts this year, but showed up on the Showlabs by Plum Research charts for Prime Video, along with Merry Little Batman:
Like all things data, of course, there are some conflicting signals, and some ranking charts don’t show the Christmas deluge nearly as strongly. For example, Samba TV’s Top Ten didn’t put a single holiday film in the top ten for the weeks of 18-Dec and 25-Dec.
On Showlabs’ Max top five film chart, only Elf and the Rick & Morty Yule Log made their top five:
Still, the data definitely leans “Christmas classics do great streaming numbers.” It’s seems a little trite to point this out, but sometimes that’s just the conclusion. For three years now, Home Alone, Elf, National Lampoon Christmas Vacation, How the Grinch Stole Christmas and other holiday movies just smash streaming viewership, and I’d bet that happens again in future years.
Do We Have Any Updates to “The Christmas Canon”?
Last year, I took a stab at defining “The Christmas Canon”, those essential films that viewers watch and rewatch every year. I used four rough metrics for popularity: box office earnings, streaming viewing, home entertainment sales, and IMDb number of reviews. That gave me these fifteen films:
Fifteen feels like a lot, though. And a few of those films just haven’t made the jump to streaming, like The Holiday, or haven’t sustained their viewership, like Klaus on Netflix. (Though I think Klaus is really excellent.) Plus Die Hard is controversial. (So controversial.) Let’s drop those three films to make a tight, dozen films in our canon. Here it is:
Eight of those twelve films made the Nielsen top ten charts at some point this year. As did The Santa Clauses TV series, and It’s A Wonderful Life made the Showlabs charts for Prime Video. The only two films to miss out entirely were Love Actually and A Christmas Story—which made the charts last year—and we know those movies ran a lot on linear TV, so I would leave them in the canon. (Imagine if Love Actually arrived on Netflix next year. I bet it smashes the ratings charts.)
Somehow, no new Netflix family films made the charts, a strange absence. Both The Christmas Chronicles, its sequel, and Klaus did really well in some of the metrics I track, but they haven’t cracked that yearly “must rewatch” category yet.
What Lessons Can We Take From 2023?
We did see one big strategic change from past years: non-exclusivity. For years, How The Grinch Stole Christmas has bounced around between Netflix, Max and Peacock, basically whoever would pay Universal the most for it. (That always includes Freeform on cable, by the way…)
This year Warner Bros. Discovery also rented their treasures (Elf, The Polar Express and National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation) to Hulu non-exclusively. I don’t think Disney will sell Home Alone or The Santa Clause anytime soon, but maybe they rent some other Christmas titles, like A Miracle on Thirty Fourth street, in the future?
Meanwhile, Netflix. My analysis above shows that, between The Christmas Chronicles and Klaus, Netflix has two genuine Christmas potential classics on their hands. But are they resonating with the larger public if they don’t make the Nielsen top ten? I know Netflix has said they wouldn’t benefit at all from licensing their films and shows, but I think putting those two films on either linear channels or other streamers could give them a second life too. Imagine if The Christmas Chronicles showed up TNT or Freeform. Would they get even more awareness?