For the festive-minded, or even just those eager for a return to normalcy, there is yet another time-honored tradition that is going to get a brand new Covid test-drive this holiday season. The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade will not be winding its usual path through Manhattan this year due to safety measures imposed by the continued coronavirus pandemic.
Instead, those looking for live entertainment this year will be stowing the festive outdoor layers and instead cuddling up on the sofa for a show that will, according to a statement from Macy’s, continue to carry the “Macy’s Parade’s signature mix of giant character helium balloons, fantastic floats, street performers, [and] clowns.” Ordinarily, the parade covers a 2.5 mile route, but this year the entirety of the event will be performed around Herald Square in Manhattan, the location of Macy’s flagship store. Additionally, it will be a creative compilation, with parts of the parade being necessarily pre-recorded over a span of two days, allowing time for the final broadcast to incorporate a mixture of live and pre-recorded elements. It is an iconic example of how history is being rerouted as the world contemplates what happens when crowds gather.
This will be the first Thanksgiving since 1924 where the historic parade has not hosted a bustling, noisy and enthusiastic audience of public spectators. New York Mayor Bill de Blasio stated in a press conference that “it will not be the same parade we’re used to. It will be a different kind of event. [Macy’s is] reinventing the event for this moment in history, and you will be able to feel the spirit and the joy of that day on television, online.” De Blasio added in his statement that he hopes that next year the parade will be able to carry on with its usual format, but for now, it’s all about firing up screens of all sizes and riding the new reality. This year’s parade will have a greatly stripped down number of participants, approximately 75% fewer than in previous years, and for those few participants still in the parade, face coverings, PPE, and social distancing will be the order of the day. Minors will be excluded from the parade entirely, and the giant balloons will be carried along by specially equipped vehicles rather than the usual army of balloon handlers. Those regional high school bands who were chosen to perform in 2020 have been bumped to perform next year, with local bands consisting of adults taking up the vacant slots.
In adopting these new measures in what Macy’s has claimed officially as being in accordance with guidelines set by the CDC, they hope to replicate the success of this year’s Macy’s 4th of July Fireworks show, which also reinvented and operated under altered new practices. Macy’s certainly has their work cut out in this final run into parade day. While we can still expect the usual gaggle of performers and balloons, as well as Santa Claus’ traditional appearance, other aspects of the parade will resist reinvention. For example, the much-anticipated Giant Balloon Inflation which generally occurs the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, will not be reprised this year. In another break from tradition, this will also be the first year in which the parade will feature a character from a YouTube show: Red Titan, an alter ego of the 8-year old personality at the helm of Ryan’s World. It’s worth a shot. As a family and children-oriented channel that has garnered well over 50 billion views in it’s five year lifetime, it has a significant share of consumer eyeballs.
Whatever the final critique, the parade will be airing on NBC between 9 a.m. and noon on Thanksgiving Day, and is likely to be viewable on streaming services like YouTube TV and Hulu+, platforms that have NBC available as a channel, so there will be ample opportunity for anyone who wants a peek at this parade from a safe (if somewhat disappointing) distance. Reliably the parade is one of the most watched television events of each year, pulling in 22 million viewers for NBC in 2019, and it will be interesting to see whether that number increases or decreases with the parade 2.0 procedures. For marketers the possibility that the changes to the format will draw increased interest to the parade and boost television viewership presents a silver lining.
The critical mass of television viewing that has surrounded the election may have created some degree of screen fatigue; and this, combined with the absence of the excited buzz that comes from a live crowd, could land with a little heavy as comparisons are drawn between the then and now. There was only a slight dip in viewership from 2018 to 2019, just over 7%, and with 22 million viewers pulled in by last year’s airing, hopes are still afloat that for the sake of history, and the many people involved with the parade, that 2020 will see a very hearty viewership. Macy’s has done it’s part since 1924 to bring the holiday cheer, so maybe they still hold the magic to bring a big celebration into its own this year.