The 2020 Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade Will Have No Spectators—but Plenty of Advertisers

NBC prepares for one of the year’s biggest single-day ad revenue hauls

In this year's Thanksgiving Day Parade, balloons will be driven by small utility vehicles instead of being guided by 90-100 handlers. Peter Kramer/NBC
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Very little will be normal about Thanksgiving this year—the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is strongly recommending that people stay home for the holiday to help prevent Covid-19 spread—except for one thing: The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade will continue as usual that morning.

NBC will broadcast the 94th annual Thanksgiving Day Parade at 9 a.m. Thursday, and will encore the three-hour telecast at 2 p.m.

But while this year’s parade will look different—it will be restricted to a single city block on New York’s 34th Street instead of the traditional 2.5-mile parade route, to avoid the usual gathering of 3.5 million spectators—the telecast is more popular than ever with advertisers. NBCUniversal sold out its parade inventory sooner than usual this year.

The parade “is our Super Bowl of family viewing,” said Mark Marshall, president of advertising sales and partnerships, NBCUniversal.

Last year, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade averaged 22.1 million viewers and a 5.5 rating in the 18-49 demo. Both were the highest total viewer and demo results for an entertainment telecast since the 2019 Oscars.

But for the network, the parade is just the first part of daylong festivities—followed by The National Dog Show, a parade encore and a prime-time Thanksgiving NFL game—that traditionally makes Thanksgiving one of its biggest single-day ad revenue hauls each year.

In 2019, the network generated an estimated $49.2 million in ad revenue from the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, while The National Dog Show brought in $11.7 million and the prime-time NFL game between the New Orleans Saints and Atlanta Falcons yielded $72.1 million, according to Kantar. That’s close to $133 million in ad revenue for the three events.

“Over the years, it has become a tradition of, you start your day with NBC, leave it on and end your day with the game,” said Marshall. “And this year, having the undefeated [Pittsburgh] Steelers playing their rival, Baltimore [Ravens], is going to be a great matchup.”

Update: Wednesday afternoon, the NFL announced that it was postponing NBC’s Thanksgiving night Steelers-Ravens game to Sunday afternoon at 1:15 p.m., following several positive Covid-19 tests from Ravens players and staffers.

The 94-year-old Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade has ballooned into a cherished holiday tradition and has been called a “dream” for the brands that partner with it.

NBCUniversal did not sell this year’s parade any differently than in previous years, but did have different conversations with marketers due to the pandemic. Advertisers weren’t worried that the parade would be canceled, “but they wanted to hear what the plan was from a health and safety standpoint,” said Marshall.

Parade demand was led by the telco, insurance and restaurant categories, all of which featured new advertisers, as well as CPG, pharma, retail and auto. This year will also feature multiple spots that are 60 seconds and longer, as marketers increasingly use the parade to launch long-form creative. NBC also saw record pricing for the Thanksgiving NFL game, bringing in new advertisers in the health, auto and QSR categories.

One new initiative this year is the Family Is Universal campaign, which spans the company’s One Platform offering. The company has partnered with Progressive, Verizon and Walmart to bring families together around its biggest holiday events—like the parade and next week’s Rockefeller Center tree lighting—while raising money for Feeding America and No Kid Hungry and donating about 6 million meals.

NBCUniversal and Verizon are also partnering on a Verizon livestream of the parade, across Verizon Media properties and other platforms, for the fifth year.

@jasonlynch Jason Lynch is TV Editor at Adweek, overseeing trends, technology, personalities and programming across broadcast, cable and streaming video.