After SNL’s Highest Ratings in 6 Years, NBC Prepares the Show’s First Branded Content Spots

First 2 are set for upcoming episodes

Despite several brand-centric sketches like its fake Totino's Super Bowl ad, SNL has yet to air any branded content spots. Saturday Night Live
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Saturday Night Live’s Trump bump just keeps getting bigger. The show has been gaining buzz and viewers as it becomes an increasingly larger thorn in the side of President Trump and his administration, with Saturday’s episode—featuring Alec Baldwin and the return of Melissa McCarthy as White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer—drawing the show’s highest ratings in six years.

But the audiences flocking to the show still have yet to see the branded content pods that NBCU said would begin airing this season, as part of its efforts to reduce the show’s ad load by around 30 percent. While NBC did indeed scale back SNL’s ad load—removing two commercial breaks per episode—it has yet to air of those any branded content spots during the show.

However, that is about to change. The network said the first two branded content pods are set to air sometime in the next few episodes. SNL returns with new shows on March 7.

This season’s ad load reduction “has been an unbelievable success. It’s the least-commercialized program in all of ad-supported TV right now,” said Mark Marshall, evp of entertainment group advertising sales for NBCUniversal.

Last April, NBC said it would reduce SNL’s ad load this season, while Linda Yaccarino, NBCU’s chairman of advertising sales and client partnerships, said the show would air six branded content pods per year.

Yet with 14 episodes of Season 42 already aired, and just seven more to go this season, Saturday Night Live hasn’t yet aired any branded content spots. Many of this season’s sketches, however, seemed as if they could potentially fall under that category, including Fisher-Price’s toys for sensitive boys, a Dunkin’ Donuts spoof starring Casey Affleck, a send-up of Apple’s “1984” ad that poked fun at Kohler’s futuristic toilets, a fake Super Bowl ad for Totino’s and the sketches in last week’s episode that centered around Russell Stover and Cheetos.

NBCU said its ad sales team hadn’t talked with SNL writers about incorporating more brand-themed sketches—which have always been an SNL staple— into the mix as a way to make the upcoming branded content spots feel more organic.

The network is still keeping details on the SNL branded content spots under wraps, including which brands will be involved and where in the show they might air.

When those spots do air, they’ll reach an audience that has grown even bigger since election season. Saturday’s episode, hosted by Baldwin and featuring a second surprise appearance by McCarthy, was the show’s most-watched telecast in six years, with 10.8 million total viewers. It was also last week’s No. 2 broadcast show in the 18-49 demo (3.1), out-rated only by the Grammys (7.8). This season, the show’s demo ratings are up 19 percent (3.5 vs 2.9 last year), while it’s jumped 21 percent in total viewers (10.6 million vs 8.8 million in 2015-16).

And advertiser demand has paralleled the audience interest in the show. “Historically, we’ve always gotten a bump in an election year,” said Marshall. This year, however, “the bump has gone well beyond the halo of the election.”

As a result, the show’s ad revenue is higher than ever, even with the reduced ad load. “The demand for the show has been through the roof and it’s sold out every week,” said Marshall. “It’s a pretty phenomenal asset that we are unbelievably lucky to have.”

@jasonlynch Jason Lynch is TV Editor at Adweek, overseeing trends, technology, personalities and programming across broadcast, cable and streaming video.