The Reality of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade


The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade coverage by NBC continues to be one of the worst broadcast events on TV, yet somehow it’s a ‘tradition’. What can you expect to see when you tune in to watch it?


The holiday season arrives and consumers are reminded to look out for the latest scams, fraudulent online scams and to take precautions with their purchasing. Similar warnings should be given for the broadcast of The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Viewers should be cautioned ahead of time that if they choose to turn it on and expect to spend their Thanksgiving morning having a grand time watching the famous parade live they’re in for a con job!

Viewers will barely get any parade coverage and instead be subjected to a three-hour informercial selling products, promoting network shows and a bombardment of advertising for companies. You would be better off sleeping in and missing this whole annual show. 

So, ok you decide to watch the parade, since after all it is a Thanksgiving tradition. Everyone else is going to watch it and later at dinner folks will say they were watching it. You want to get in on the fun!

What can you expect to see when you tune in? Well, I’m going to give you a rundown of what you’ll be enduring from this annual broadcast. I’ve done several posts about the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade over the years and it all seems like a pretty standard format now.

It is a very poorly produced telecast and the usual complaints of “They barely showed any of the parade!”, “Why are they showing so many musical numbers?!?!”, “What’s all this lip-syncing?!?!”, “Why do these hosts have to keep talking?!?!” “When are they going to switch the camera back to the parade?!?!”

This has become the norm for coverage of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and the networks that cover the parade (NBC and CBS) don’t seem compelled to improve their broadcasts of it. If you decide to sit through it, by the end of the broadcast maybe you’ll accept this is one annual Thanksgiving tradition that you don’t want to be a part of anymore.

HISTORY – The first parade was in 1924 on Thanksgiving Day. At that time it was called ‘The Macy’s Christmas Parade’. While Macy’s describes the Parade as their “annual gift to the nation”, it isn’t completely such a noble and selfless act. There are some ulterior motives to it. 

Santa Claus, 1933

The Parade was designed to excite consumers to spend their money on holiday shopping sprees at the Macy’s flagship store In New York City. The parade was such a hit, Macy’s announced the very next day they would do it again the next year. A tradition was born. 

Right from its small beginning, the parade was a marketing tool designed for companies to promote their brands and sell products. It has never changed. 

Companies that want to participate in the parade pay a fee of up to $190,000 (they get a discount if they sign up to join for several years). They pay for their floats and balloons and that can range anywhere between $120,000 to $300,000. 

It’s actually not too bad a deal, especially when you consider a 30-second commercial on network television can cost over $100,00. So, with the fee to get in the parade companies get millions of eyeballs seeing its name on the television broadcast while parade hosts give it a mention as they discuss the design of the balloon or float. This isn’t counting the attention the brand will get by the three million people that watch the parade in person in the streets of New York City. 

THE BROADCAST – Ironically, that’s what viewers want to see when they turn on their televisions Thanksgiving morning. It’s an event designed to market products and companies, however because it’s all centered around a ‘fun event’, that doesn’t deter people from wanting to see it.

This where the strangest phenomenon has occurred and where the television broadcasts of the Parade continually upset so many viewers – they barely show any of the parade. For some strange reason many people tune in to the parade annually with the same old expectations of….well you know getting to watch a broadcast of a parade. That’s not what you’re going to experience. 

Macys-Thanksgiving-Day-Parade-broadcast-NBC-hosts-awful-horrible-overrated-annoyingThis has been a constant for the last twenty or so years and it progressively has gotten worse. It no longer is enough to spend the three-hour morning broadcast to focus on the participating companies in the parade. The ones who paid the money for the floats and balloon.

But now networks give them as little time they can get away with, while spending an exorbitant amount of time promoting their own network stars, shows and cramming as many commercial breaks into the broadcast as possible.

Yet, somehow many people are surprised and angry by how terrible the broadcast coverage is! I’m always surprised by this reaction. If you’ve seen the parade even once before, you should know that The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade is one of the worst broadcasted events of the year. It has been like that for a very long time now and it doesn’t seem like it’s ever going to get any better.

NBC is the biggest offender of this (I still think CBS’ coverage while still bad, is a tiny bit better than NBC). NBC hijacks this holiday event and without fail manages to put out an incredibly annoying, frustrating and tacky morning broadcast every Thanksgiving morning.

Parade hosts Betty White and Lorne Greene, 1965

NBC’s television broadcast of the parade will consist of morning hosts engaging in forced banter, cutting away to remote segments of interviews with parade attendees and stars of NBC shows, extended musical numbers from Broadway shows and there will barely be any attention given to the actual parade that is rolling past their cameras. 

You will be spending more screen time and hear more from the NBC hosts than seeing all the floats, balloons and marching bands.

I don’t think this was an immediate change in the coverage of the Parade, but just something that gradually happened over time. Broadcasts began to evolve, audiences changed, attention spans dwindled, dead-air became a dangerous pitfall that needed to be avoided, opportunities for more and more promotion were discovered during the whole event.

Before anyone knew it, the broadcast of the Thanksgiving Day Parade became a platform to vulgarly push as many products and promotion in television viewers faces. 

Just watch an older broadcast of the Parade from thirty, forty years ago and you immediately see how different it is. Sure, it might look grainer and rougher, but the marketing core of it was the same, but it was done in a much more classier, tranquil and much less ostentatious way as the broadcasts we see do it today.

BROADWAY & LIP SYNC PERFORMANCES – Rather than a parade (defined as a public procession) Broadway dancers and singers take to the street and perform. The parade comes to halt every few minutes for the casts of Broadway shows and special guest singers on floats lip sync to songs. 

The Parade began as a promotional event for Macy’s and New York City, so there was always an advertising aura to it. Everyone likes to see The Rockettes do their high kicks while reminding everyone to buy tickets to see their Christmas show at Radio City Music Hall. However, the Broadway performances and lip syncing have taken over so much of the broadcast it has now surpassed actual parade coverage on NBC. 

Cher-lip-sync-Macys-Thanksgiving-Day-Parade-2023Just this past year in 2023, many gave the lip-sycing performance of Cher some blowback for how poor it came off. This isn’t an exclusive criticism to Cher. Having artists and performance lip sync to songs is a necessity for because of the weather, it being an outdoor event, floats moving. They make them lip sync for the benefit of television viewers – who ironically don’t enjoy these performances anyway! They just want to see the parade.

This is where CBS outdoes NBC. They’ll also have musical performances, but at least they are pre-recorded, so the lip-syncing offenses are limited.

These awkward performances and lip-syncing have been going on for quite a long time and they’ve become part of this television package now – and they never have gotten better. Could you imagine if the broadcast dropped the musical numbers completely and spent the majority of their time focused on televising the parade? What a crazy idea huh?

Sure, there’s an artist every now and then that the audience is eager to see, but if Macy’s and NBC dumped these performances in the middle of the parade they wouldn’t be missed. They’re not going to, so get ready to watch a lot of embarrassing lip-syncing.

COMMERCIALS, COMMERCIALS, COMMERCIALS – Oh boy are you in for a treat! If you like commercials that is.

The long morning broadcast will be packed to its limits with commercial breaks. There’s no option of ‘skipping’ them (unless of course you recorded the parade and are watching it later). You’ll be sitting there with your morning coffee getting cold counting down the minutes for the commercials to end. I wouldn’t be surprised if the amount of commercials during the entire broadcast is almost equal to the actual show. 

Finally, the cameras get focused on the city street and the parade is on! You’ll only catch snippets of it with the anchors droning on nonstop, so you might do yourself favor and mute the TV.

FLOATS – When the cameras do decide to focus on the parade there are elaborately decorated floats that feature various holiday themes. However, these Thanksgiving parade floats come with some underlying messages.

Macys-Thanksgiving-Day-Parade-float-2023-solo-stove-promotion-commercializedFloats are typically sponsored by companies and organizations. The floats can cost between $30,000 to $100,00! The floats are basically moving promotions. They’re billboards and advertisements that roll down the middle of Sixth Avenue with people and characters standing on them waving to the crowd. 

The Hallmark Channel, McDonalds, Jennie-O, Peacock, Kinder, Brach’s, Warner Bros. Pictures, Toys ‘R’ Us, Lego, Nickelodeon/Paramount Pictures, Disney Cruise Line, Solo Stove are just some of the sponsors that were part of the 2023 parade. Those fancy floats that look dazzling are also a vehicle used to promote a company to millions of television watchers and try to get them to buy their products, but at least you can appreciate the craftsmanship that went into making these moving billboards.

So, as you watch the parade and complain about all the commercials that run during the broadcast, remember that when the cameras turn back to the parade – you’re going to be watching more commercials essentially. They’re packaged a bit different, but they’re ads.

It might be a fun game as you’re watching the floats roll pass, to try to figure out what they’re trying to sell to people! “Hey Honey, why don’t we go on one of those Disney Cruises!”

MARCHING BANDS – They’re a traditional part of any parade. You’ll see them and catch some quick information by the giddy hosts of who the bands are and how far they traveled to march in this. It’s unlikely you’ll get to hear them perform though.

The parade broadcast doesn’t have a lot of time to spend on actual marching bands and are probably more eager to cut over to some random cooking segment or go to a commercial break. The hosts will be non-stop talking over everything, so any hopes of hearing these kids who practiced and have reached their big moment on television will be drowned out by senseless television banter. 

THE BALLOONS – Yep, they’re probably the biggest thing people think of when it comes to the Thanksgiving Parade. Well, as you probably have gotten clued in by now, some of those balloons are from corporate sponsors and are giant advertising tools to not only attract eyeballs, but also to excite folks – mainly kids – to want products.

The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade is the Super Bowl for the kiddies. They’re the ones who ‘ooh and ahh’ at the floats and the balloons. They’ll see their favorite characters, get excited and influence their parents to buy a doll for them as soon as Macy’s doors open. 

Macys-Thanksgiving-Day-Parade-2023-balloon-Sinclair-OilOf course, there are some balloons of characters people have an affection for. Who doesn’t want to see a giant floating Snoopy, Baby Yoda or Smokey Bear. Their recurring appearances in the Parade keep the characters current to the new crop of younger kiddies who are watching the Parade for their first time.

But come on, not many kids become big fans of Sinclair’s Dino or Ronald McDonald. Sure, those big balloons add some pizazz to the parade, but don’t think there’s some underlying promotion attached to them to get kids to watch the shows and movies, eat a Big Mac and dream of getting their own Baby Yoda doll for the holidays. 

Really, the most exciting thing to look forward to in the parade is seeing if any of the balloons get hung up on a traffic light or popped by a tree. 

So, once again, I urge folks who want to watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade not to tune into the network coverage! It’s a colossal waste of time, has become the most overrated ‘tradition’ in the country and is one of the worst produced television events of the entire year. That has become the real annual tradition! 

If you decide to watch the network broadcast of The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, accept it for what it is and anticipate what it will give you. Despite the constant complaints by viewers, they still tuned in to watch. The 2023 Parade broadcast on NBC got a record 28.5 million viewers, along with its Peacock streaming platform. That makes it the year’s highest-rated entertainment broadcast. The Parade has become an American institution and people will watch no matter how lousy the broadcast NBC puts out of it.

Macys-Thanksgiving-Day-Parade-2023-NBC-broadcast-coverage-awful-overratedIt’s really impressive ratings numbers. It’s no wonder why so many companies want to elbow their way onto the Parade route and get some airtime. 

If you’re interested in watching the Parade and want a better viewing experience of it, you’re better off finding someone streaming the parade on YouTube from their phone looking out a New York City window. No interruptions, you get more of a parade atmosphere and you can avoid the horribly tacky broadcast that NBC and CBS only know how to serve up today. It doesn’t seem like they’ll want to make any changes to it anytime soon. 

 One the last great highlights from The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, 1997

1 thought on “The Reality of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade

  1. Great to read a fun-filled, no holds barred take on the Macy’s Parade. This coming from a guy who co-wrote “The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade” book along with Robert Grippo.

    Good stuff as always from Mr. Haphazard.

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