Why Advertisers Are So Eager for This Year’s Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade

NBC sees stronger demand than ever

As broadcast TV ratings continue to plummet this fall, advertisers have fewer and fewer reliable options outside of sports when it comes to making ad buys for the holiday season. But tomorrow, they get a Thanksgiving treat: the robust audience tuning in for NBC's broadcast of the 89th annual Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.

The telecast, which NBC will air live from 9 a.m. to noon (and repeat at 2 p.m., after the National Dog Show), has become one of the year's best bets for advertisers, especially given that Thanksgiving night/Black Friday sales begin just hours later.

Last year's parade averaged 22.6 million viewers, and its 6.2 rating among adults ages 18 to 49 topped every other nonsports prime-time telecast on the broadcast networks last fall. The 2013 parade had its biggest average audience since 1987: 25.2 million and a 6.6 rating in the 18-49 demo. 

"It is one of our biggest broadcasts of the year, every year, consistently. We'll reach over 50 million nationwide through the live broadcast and livestreaming, so it's a massive audience," said Dan Lovinger, evp, entertainment ad sales at NBCUniversal. "It's a great multigenerational viewing experience—you've got families watching in what's about as wholesome an environment as possible, and ultimately what that leads to is superior advertiser demand."

And advertisers are committing to the parade earlier than ever before. "This year we came into the upfront with more demand for the parade than we have in the last three or four years," Lovinger said. "Then we've had an extraordinarily strong scatter market in the fourth quarter, which only contributed to further demand on it. So it's been a good year for the parade."

The Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade "has become part of what families do on Thanksgiving," Brad Lachman, who has executive produced the telecast for 22 years, told me last year. "It's as much of an American tradition as cooking the turkey. People turn it on, and they don't necessarily watch three hours of it. But their families are coming in and out of the living room, watching parts of it, cooking and coming back and watching more."

"It all just adds up to this consistently great experience," said Lovinger. "And that's what advertisers look for: consistent ratings that they can depend on."

Among the artists scheduled to appear in this year's parade are Mariah Carey, the cast of Sesame Street, Cirque du Soleil, Daughtry and Jordin Sparks, along with a performance by the cast of The Wiz Live!, which NBC will broadcast on Dec. 3. Such family-friendly content is also attractive to advertisers. "Those types of opportunities are few and far between in the TV landscape, and that's why people gravitate to it," said Lovinger.

This year, NBC has seen the strongest parade interest from the retail, automotive, wireless and movie studio categories. "It's every category that you would imagine," said Lovinger. "We don't have any new categories, because we didn't need them. We try and treat the parade as equitably as possible, so we try to not overemphasize any one advertiser at the expense of the ability to do business with others. There's no one player this year that's taking a leadership position."

The network has also carved out a prime spot during the parade to promote next summer's Olympics with a 60-second spot showing U.S. and international athletes at home with their families. "We try and strike a healthy balance between our promotional needs, to drive future ratings and tune-in, with our fiscal needs, our advertiser needs," Lovinger said.