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Why holiday reruns are the gift that keeps on giving

Jim Burress Dec 23, 2014
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Holiday reruns are as much a part of the season as mall Santas, Black Friday sales and grandma’s eggnog buzz. 

According to the Nielsen, we just can’t get enough of reruns. The ratings tracking company says nine out of 10 TV viewers will take in at least one holiday special between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

That includes Jeffrey Butzer. His favorite? “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” “To me, there’s just like this warmth and realness to Charlie Brown,” he says, as a DVD version of the special plays on a nearby TV. “And it is funny.” 

Butzer’s love for the holiday classic runs deep. He owns the show on DVD, and before that, VHS. And when “A Charlie Brown Christmas” airs on TV,  Butzer makes sure he’s parked in front, taking in the antiquated animation and reciting the simple  but touching  storyline. He and his band mates even re-create the show’s soundtrack on stage at The Earl, a staple in Atlanta’s bar scene.

Unlike other shows we see over and over, there’s something different about holiday reruns. When CBS aired “Rudolph, the Red Nosed Reindeer” earlier this month for the 50th time, it attracted 10.6-million viewers, according to Nielsen. That’s good enough to land it in the No. 11 ratings spot for the week.

Turner Networks began airing “A Christmas Story” for 24 hours straight in 1997, and it now brings in an average of 3.3-million viewers per showing, according to the network.

Michael Rice is likely to account for one of those viewers. In addition to “A Christmas Carol,” the New Yorker says he counts the 1983 holiday classic as among his favorites. But do viewers like Butzer and Rice mean much in terms of ad revenue?

Turner declined to give specifics, but Chris Lemley says the networks don’t have to bring in much to make the specials lucrative. “A number of the broadcast outlets … own the movies,” says Lemley, a marketing professor at Georgia State University’s Robinson College of Business. “So [networks’] effective cost of putting them on the air is zero.” Lemley says. The cost to advertisers is often low as a result.

In fact, the “number one title is something that has no words at all and is not even a movie,” says Elizabeth Rasberry, a spokeswoman with Cox Cable.

It turns out that a 47-minute video loop of a yule log on a fireplace gets about twice as many viewers as the cable provider’s other holiday programs. Not to be outdone, this year saw the broadcast of a digital menorah for Hanukkah. 

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