It seems you can’t avoid getting mired in a political debate anymore. But Americans have found the perfect escape. They’re curling up in front of their screens to binge on a growing array of holiday movies. Cable networks including Disney, Hallmark and Lifetime serve up wholesome seasonal rom-coms to life-affirming dramas to soothe Americans’ partisan-weary psyches. Yet one network reigns over all the others for holiday fare: Hallmark. It has two channels with 38 original movies for this holiday season. It also has two Hanukkah-themed stories in development for 2019.
“The world IS a mess right now and the Hallmark movies let you forget all that for a couple hours,” wrote one panelist in an Ipsos Fresh Lab Online Community Panel. “You can count on a happy ending with Hallmark, too.” Another panelist said: “I personally watch Hallmark movies to escape from the world and all the bad things in it.”
Treat and retreat
With all the tribalism, fear and anger in this country, it makes sense that people are turning to guilty pleasures and places of comfort. “Hallmark’s movies are like a balm of predicable, happy stories in a time where things seem unpredictable,” says Chris Jackson, a vice president at Ipsos U.S. “They are the entertainment equivalent of french fries. People feel like they see so much hostility and anger and divisiveness in ‘real life’ that they’re looking for comfort in these entertainment environments.”
Jackson says polarization has been stubbornly consistent. He points to a Pew Research Center study that shows that the nation has become more polarized over the past two decades. As a result, some people are withdrawing from their social groups to avoid facing the ire of others who have opposing opinions or values.
For example, one mother said she pulled out of her book club after talk became partisan, Ipsos recorded in a 2017 ethnography study of middle class mothers in the Cincinnati area. “It was striking hearing someone be part of a book club and leave it because of discussions about politics,” says Liza Walworth, an Ipsos vice president leading its Ethnography Center of Excellence. “They talked about social media and the loss of civility.” Another mom in the study left a Facebook group that turned political.
This is where Hallmark’s holiday fare is an increasingly popular antidote. Its holiday programming today is number one in all of television, says Michelle Vicary, executive vice president of programming for the Hallmark and Hallmark Movies & Mysteries channels. During its nine-and-a-half-week holiday run, Hallmark captures the top adult and female demographics. About a third of the premiere viewers are men and the younger audience of men and women ages 18 to 49 grows year-over-year, Vicary adds. “It was pretty interesting to see we are a top 10 network with kids and teens,” she says.
Positivity instead of partisan
Hallmark’s lineup isn’t for everyone. Many people only admit to watching it when others do first or they “get sucked in.” However, among Ipsos panelists polled who do watch, the top two reasons are to escape and de-stress from today’s world and excitement for the upcoming holidays.
Hallmark credits part of its Christmas movie success–which has expanded in recent years–with the fact that emotional connections, positivity and feelings of the holiday are at the center of its programming. Its top movie premieres this season include titles like Christmas at Graceland,” “A Shoe Addict’s Christmas” and “It’s Christmas, Eve.”
Focus on unity
It is focusing on the things people have in common, which is right in line with its brand purpose about connecting. It’s also a prime example of how brands can succeed in a polarized world by staying true to their brand DNA.
“We are looking to unify people, even if it’s a phone call to a friend about watching their favorite Hallmark movie than [be about] the absence of political conversation,” says Vicary. She predicts that its programs will beat the combined 82.1 million viewers they drew last season.
With numbers like that, you can be loud and proud about your Hallmark habit.