The “25 Days of Christmas” marathon on Freeform (formerly ABC Family) is getting some serious competition this year, from AMC of all places. While Freeform traditionally begins airing a steady stream of holiday classics on December 1st that lead to big ratings and lengthy viewing marathons, the network will be without three major titles this year: Elf, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, and The Polar Express. Indeed, Vulture reports that AMC has landed the exclusive broadcast rights to the aforementioned trio, striking a deal with Warner Bros. that also grants them access to 12 of the 18 holiday specials produced by Rankin/Bass like The Year Without a Santa Claus and Jack Frost.
This is all in an effort for AMC to launch a traditional holiday marathon of its own in November, which they’re now dubbing “Best Christmas Ever.” The network has played host to Christmas movies in the past like Scrooged, Home Alone, and Miracle on 34th Street, but their library was far more limited in scope. This year, more than four dozen holiday films and specials will air on AMC throughout December, offering some serious competition to Freeform’s popular programming.
Indeed, while you might argue that folks could simply buy or stream these films at their leisure, ratings for events like this are usually quite high. Per Vulture, Nielsen estimates 150 million viewers caught at least a few minutes of last year’s 25 Days of Christmas on Freeform. These events perform extremely well, and AMC has been playing the long-game by waiting for deals to expire so they could nab some high-profile films for their own competitive block of programming—which will also include Gremlins, Jingle All the Way, and Planes, Trains & Automobiles.
Freeform will still have a hefty lineup, including the Disney/Pixar library and films like Nightmare Before Christmas, but Elf had been the network’s biggest performer over the last few years. Elf and Christmas Vacation ran nearly 24 times last year, and Polar Express was a regular repeat as well. Moreover, this will be Freeform’s first Christmas without the Harry Potter movies. Harry Potter Weekend was a staple of Freeform’s library, and they aired throughout December as well, but the broadcast rights switched over to USA/Syfy this year.
It’ll be interesting to see how the Disney-owned Freeform responds—if they snatch up new, different titles or if their schedule will just include a bunch more repeats. Regardless, the Christmas Movie Programming War is a real thing, and AMC is coming to play this year.