Christmas Radio Sets a New Bar in 2015

Christmas Radio Sets a New Bar in 2015

Whether you are digging out from the winter’s first epic northeast snowstorm, or lamenting this past weekend’s NFL conference championship results, Christmas can seem like a distant memory. But for radio programmers, the recent release of Nielsen’s holiday portable people meter (PPM) data has some formats basking in the afterglow of a particularly generous holiday listening season.

With each passing year, the buildup to and payoff from switching to an “all-Christmas” format continues to pay dividends. In 2015, 528 radio stations nationwide adopted a holiday programming format, which was just one station shy of 2014’s record of 529 stations. Either way you slice it, “all-Christmas” radio is a big deal on the airwaves, and the holiday book results prove that out.

After showing signs of growth in the December ratings, which covered Nov. 5, 2015, through Dec. 2, 2015, Adult Contemporary (AC) shot to new heights in the holiday book, posting new records in several demographics and finishing as the top-ranked format nationwide. This is the second year in a row that AC has increased its share of listening during the holiday survey; what’s more, among Millennial audiences (aged 18-34), the year-over-year results jumped by more than a full share point between 2014 and 2015. It also bears mentioning that the release of Adele’s record-setting 25 is another likely factor that helped push AC into the record books to close the year.


AC Hol 2012 Hol 2013 Hol 2014 Hol 2015
Persons 6+ 12.7% 12.1% 12.7% 12.9%*
Persons 18-34 10.3% 10.2% 10.4% 11.5%*
Persons 25-54 12.1% 11.6% 12.0% 12.1%
Source: Nielsen

In a repeat of last month, sister-format Hot AC also kept up the momentum from December, finishing the year with strong holiday ratings. Across all three of the demographics we analyzed, Hot AC had its best holiday book ever, and at the same time matched the all-time record for listener share among 18-to-34 year-olds and set a new record with the 25-54 audience. The story of Hot AC in 2014 was that it ended the year with a big jump in holiday listening, far surpassing 2013’s results. This time around, the growth was more modest and spread out throughout the year, but there’s no doubt that 2015 was a banner year for Hot AC.


Hot AC Hol 2012 Hol 2013 Hol 2014 Hol 2015
Persons 6+ 5.0% 5.7% 6.6% 6.8%
Persons 18-34 5.4% 6.5% 7.5% 7.7%*
Persons 25-54 5.6% 6.1% 7.1% 7.4%*
Source: Nielsen

The final format in our holiday growth story was Classic Hits, which also had a notable record to close out the year. The format’s 18-34 results (4.2% share) marks the first time that Classic Hits has ever cracked 4.0 with this age group in PPM measurement.


Classic Hits Hol 2012 Hol 2013 Hol 2014 Hol 2015
Persons 6+ 4.9% 5.2% 5.2% 5.5%
Persons 18-34 3.0% 3.3% 3.8% 4.2%*
Persons 25-54 4.4% 4.7% 4.5% 4.8%
Source: Nielsen

It’s clear that the “all-Christmas” format has a big effect on music formats across the radio landscape, with some booming and others seeing an annual decline in listening as the year ends. 2015 was no exception to that pattern, with AC, Soft AC, Hot AC and Classic Hits rising, while Pop Contemporary Hit Radio (CHR), Urban Contemporary and Country dropped back. The chart below details the yearly change in listener share for those major formats between November (when holiday programming really gets doing) and the end of the holiday book.


% change Nov 12 – Hol 12 Nov 13 – Hol 13 Nov 14 – Hol 14 Nov 15 – Hol 15
Adult Contemporary 76% 61% 81% 70%
Soft AC 57% 83% 20% 17%
Hot AC -6% 2% 6% 2%
Classic Hits -4% Flat 6% 2%
Mexican Regional Flat -8% -14% Flat
Urban AC Flat Flat 2% -4%
Pop CHR -4% -5% -10% -5%
Urban Contemporary 4% 3% Flat -6%
Country -13% -13% -14% -19%
Source: Nielsen

Data used in this report is inclusive of multicultural audiences. Hispanic consumer audiences are composed of both English- and Spanish-speaking representative populations.