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Who Really Has the Holly-est, Jolliest Christmas: Hallmark, Lifetime, or Netflix?

IndieWire examines how reliant on holiday movies each of the Big 3 Christmas platforms really are.

Hallmark, Lifetime and Netflix go big at Christmas times

Hallmark, Lifetime, and Netflix go big at Christmas time

Photos courtesy of Hallmark Channel, Lifetime, and Netflix

‘Tis the season for Hallmark Channel, Lifetime, and Netflix.

The two basic-cable channels and the streaming giant notoriously go in on made-for-TV holiday movies, and this yuletide time will be no exception. But just how crucial to their respective (and very different) businesses is this type of programming, this time of year?

For Hallmark Channel, as is the case for its namesake greeting-card business, December is truly a time to be merry. This year’s “Countdown to Christmas” will premiere 31 new holiday films on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday nights between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Hallmark Channel’s primetime viewership in the fourth quarter of 2021 was 54 percent higher than in Q3, 62 percent higher than Q2, and 27 percent higher than Q1, according to Nielsen data. The first quarter comes closest to the last for a few reasons: 1) Christmas-movie catch-up viewing, and 2) Another programming stunt: “New Year New Movies!” (In the first quarter of 2021, the five new New Year’s movies averaged 2.4 million total viewers and ranked No. 1 across entertainment programming on cable for their respective airdates.)

For Lifetime, “It’s a Wonderful Lifetime” holiday movies are less of a lifeline. Lifetime’s primetime viewership in Q4 2021 was 12 percent higher than Q3, which is not nothing. But Q4 viewership was just 2 percent higher than Q2, and was 8 percent lower than Q1. In the first quarter of 2021, Lifetime aired a Wendy Williams movie and its Salt-N-Pepa biopic; the channel also premieres new seasons of hit series “Married at First Sight” each Q1.

Overall, Lifetime has a much steadier stream of programming than Hallmark Channel, regularly churning out original shows, biopics, and ripped-from-the-headlines movies. Hallmark has some successful originals, like “When Calls the Heart” and “Chesapeake Shores,” but the reindeer’s share of the non-holiday programming includes lots of classic sitcoms via the magic of syndication.

But when it comes down to it, the “It’s a Wonderful Lifetime” movies are lumps of coal, ratings-wise, compared to Hallmark’s “Countdown to Christmas.” Thus far this Q4, Hallmark is the second-most-watched entertainment cable network, just like it was last year. (The “entertainment” distinction eliminates news and sports channels; in this case that means ESPN, Fox News Channel, and MSNBC stay out of the picture.)

Chord Overstreet as Jake Russell, Lindsay Lohan as Sierra Belmont in Netflix's "Falling For Christmas"

Netflix’s “Falling for Christmas”

Scott Everett White/Netflix

While Hallmark rules linear television at the holidays, for Netflix, the gift of Christmas is more difficult to measure — and less vital to the giant’s overall success. The streamer’s non-holiday programming is vast and dominant, rolling out steadily throughout the year, but toward the end of October, a significant portion of Netflix viewership does turn to Christmas, a person with access to Netflix’s analytics told IndieWire. And the general public (though, really, the media) can see the holiday programming (mostly Christmas movies) begin to trend on Netflix’s Top 10 list in November.

Last December, nearly 50 percent of Netflix users watched a Christmas title, our inside source told us. Globally, the hours viewed of Christmas programing grew 30 percent over the last two years.

Netflix boasts a trio of Christmas movie franchises: “The Princess Switch,” “A Christmas Prince,” and “The Christmas Chronicles.” They’ll get some fresh-as-new-snow competition this year via the streamer’s six new Christmas movies this year, including the already acclaimed “Falling for Christmas” starring Lindsay Lohan.

In its debut week, “Falling for Christmas” was the No. 2 movie on Netflix, sitting behind only “Enola Holmes 2.” And while the tally for the Millie Bobby Brown/Henry Cavill movie (62.86 million hours viewed) counted a full seven days, Lohan and Chord Overstreet’s (48.36 million hours) was only out for four.

Below are the 10 most popular Netflix Christmas titles in the U.S. (based on 28-day viewing), B.L. (Before Lohan).

  1. “The Christmas Chronicles: Part Two”

  2. “The Christmas Chronicles”

  3. “Love Hard”

  4. “Holidate”

  5. “The Princess Switch”

  6. “A Boy Called Christmas”

  7. “Nailed It! Holiday!: Season 1”

  8. “Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey”

  9. “A California Christmas”

  10. “Klaus”

Merry Christmas to all three platforms, and to all a good night.

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