Thanksgiving is a day when more than 100 million Americans will observe the most honored of traditions: gathering with family and friends to watch as many as 15 straight hours straight of TV.
More than any other major American holiday, Thanksgiving has become a TV-centric day, where people seem to spend far more time in front of the television than they do at the dinner table. And the broadcast networks are taking advantage of that rapt audience through marquee programs that last year attracted more than 114 million viewers.
The TV turkey day festivities kick off at 9am with the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade on NBC, which averaged 22.4 million viewers last year, its largest audience since 2001. NBC Research estimates that 43.2 million people watched at least a portion of the parade. An additional 7.5 million CBS viewers watched that network’s unofficial coverage of the New York City event, billed as The Thanksgiving Day Parade on CBS. The parade concludes at 12 p.m., and segues into NBC’s coverage of The National Dog Show, which drew 9.2 million viewers in 2012. NBC Research estimates that 19.3 million viewers took in at least part of the Dog Show.
As TV ratings decline—last season’s number-one show, NCIS, averaged 21.3 million viewers; in the '90s, top-rated ER would draw almost twice that amount—Thanksgiving Day, like Super Bowl Sunday, is one of the few times a year that advertisers can depend on a dedicated, sizable audience that will watch TV—and watch it live as opposed to time-shifting on their DVRs. Since Nielsen adopted its current "People Meter" ratings system in 1987, Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade coverage has consistently remained in the 20-22 million range, an impressive feat in our increasingly fractured TV viewing.
For many families, these television events have become as essential a part of Thanksgiving as the dinner itself, which is why NBC, CBS and FOX—and the network’s advertisers—will spend Thursday giving thanks for their captive turkey day audience.
This post originally appeared on Quartz, an Atlantic partner site.