Editors' pick: Originally published Nov. 17.
NBC's telecast of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade is a rolling commercial hosted by the Today show crew... and sponsors know it.
There is no other non-sports show on television that's able to draw the audience that this parade provides, and it's basically a pep rally for Thanksgiving, Black Friday and Cyber Monday shopping. Before it was cool for stores to open their doors and host "Black Friday" sales on Thanksgiving itself, the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade spent the better part of the last century using Thanksgiving to get Americans all riled up Christmas shopping. Of the 30 most-watched television broadcasts of fall 2015, only two of them didn't involve a National Football League game: the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade and its 22.3 million viewers and a Republican presidential debate. In fact, the parade drew a larger audience than 35% of NFL games aired last season.
With NFL ratings slumping of late, the parade is one of the few times advertisers are guaranteed an viewing audience of this size.
Though the the Detroit and Philadelphia Thanksgiving parades are far older, the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade is the breadwinner. The dulcet tones of Today show hosts Savannah Guthrie, Al Roker and Matt Lauer whisper ad copy into your living room as each floating billboard passes, while the actual commercial breaks fills the air with promises of crescent rolls and the touch, the feel of cotton. If you're lucky enough to be there in person, hordes of marketing interns will be on hand to fill your frostbitten hands with swag.
There are other, less outwardly commercial viewing options available, but they just seem a bit hollow. Though NBC partners with Macy's and has official broadcast rights, CBS takes advantage of the public venue (and its studio near Times Square) to broadcast The Thanksgiving Day Parade on CBS seemingly as punishment for employees who'd rather have the day off.
Granted, it's those sponsors that bring you performances by The Muppets, Aloe Blacc, Regina Spektor, De La Soul, Fitz and The Tantrums and Sarah McLachlan, but they do so on floats dedicated to their products and beneath balloons shapes like their mascots and other intellectual property. It's the companies' street party, and you're just invited to watch. While it goes without saying that Macy's will be on hand for the festivities, here are 20 companies dragging Santa Claus down from his cozy Upper West Side digs near the Museum of Natural History to Herald Square: