Streaming Services Capitalize on the Most Wonderful Time of the Year to Binge-Watch

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Hulu is banking its customers will spend at least part of their holiday breaks catching up on shows and movies. That’s why over next couple weeks, Hulu’s homepage won’t just highlight its holiday programming, but also prominently feature its growing slate of original series, including The Handmaid’s Tale.

The service promotes its own shows throughout the year, of course, but given how many people find themselves crowded around a TV with family or friends during the holidays, Hulu wants to make sure longtime subscribers and newcomers alike get the chance to catch up on any original programming they may have missed. It has rolled out a holiday brand campaign, “Home Is Where The Hulu Is.” In addition to surfacing holiday fare, Hulu released both the first season of drama Reprisal and the third season of Marvel teen drama Runaways this month.
Hulu’s approach, which coincides with the company’s release of a binge ad unit for advertisers, is an increasingly common one for streaming services during the holiday season. The extra time consumers have around the holidays is a gift to those platforms, who are taking advantage of the nationwide period of downtime—during which many people will be at home with family and friends—to get viewers hooked on their own shows.

Ratings spike during holiday refuge

It’s not just holiday-themed programming: streaming services are releasing or resurfacing originals of all kinds just in time for a holiday binge.

“These video on-demand platforms are promoting the chance to binge-watch either their original content or some of the licensed content they have in place of [traditional TV] marathons, because we no longer have appointment TV where you had to actually find out when things are on and schedule the time to watch it,” said Kevin Westcott, vice chairman, principal and US telecom, media and entertainment lead at the consultancy Deloitte. “The VOD platforms are using this time to promote the chance to catch up on their original content that maybe you didn’t see already.”

For years, the holidays have served as prime opportunity for cable television channels to capitalize on holiday viewership spikes. Broadcast schedulers planned programming marathons, holiday-themed reruns and even some premieres around the holidays; cable channels like Hallmark and Lifetime go all in on holiday-themed programming, ringing in cash both in ratings and in ad revenue. According to Nielsen, traditional live and time-shifted television from mid-December to early January is, on average, 8% higher than viewership from the end of September through mid-December.

“For television, the fall and winter are traditionally the most bountiful times for viewing in America,” said Peter Katsingris, svp audience insights, Nielsen. “Networks are airing their new and more popular content, and audiences, who might be looking for refuge from the cold weather, are more likely to watch them during this time.”

While streaming has reshaped the television landscape, consumer appetite for watching plenty of TV over the holidays hasn’t abated. Most major streaming services see an audience spike in November and December, according to figures the analytics firm SimilarWeb provided to Adweek.

In 2018, average monthly traffic to Netflix was 6.3% higher in November and December compared to the rest of the year. The figures were even higher for Hulu, which saw a 29.4% traffic spike those two months, and Amazon Prime Video, whose traffic in the same time period was a whopping 83.6% higher than the rest of the year. SimilarWeb found those services also enjoyed higher-than-usual daily active users on their apps.

Netflix’s holiday discovery and Disney+’s rising releases 

Over the last few years, Netflix has found big audiences for its programming released right around the holidays. It was a discovery the streaming service first made in 2015, when Making a Murderer dropped on Dec. 18 of that year. Lisa Nishimura, now Netflix’s vp of independent film and documentary features, told Adweek at the time that the docuseries’ release date had been chosen with great care.

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