After 41 years, NBC's venerable Saturday Night Live will get a major shake-up when it returns next fall, and we're not talking about the cast.
NBC said today that it would reduce the ad load for the show's 42nd season by about 30 percent, essentially axing two commercial pods per 90-minute episode. "As the decades have gone by, commercial time has grown," said Lorne Michaels, creator and executive producer. "This will give time back to the show and make it easier to watch the show live."
SNL is averaging about 6 million viewers this season, but gets a boost via time-shifted viewing. Original episodes this season have grown by 50 percent in Live Plus 7-day viewing, averaging about 8.6 million.
But today's announcement is about keeping more live viewers by showing fewer ads. This also continues the trend of TV networks cutting ad loads and finding more native ways for advertisers to get their message out.
NBC has been leading the charge with branded content across dayparts. On Leap Day, it partnered with American Express, removing about 30 minutes of prime-time ads in favor of sponsored content.
NBC said that some of the extra time on SNL will be used for sponsored content, likely filling the rest with pretaped segments, since the show's set designers need commercial breaks to set up the next sketch. SNL produces a two-hour dress rehearsal a few hours before the live show; Michaels then cuts about 30 minutes worth of content, so NBC will have extra sketches available. NBC has been making these "Cut for Time" sketches available on its digital platforms.
It's not known yet whether the not-ready-for-prime-time players will take part in the sponsored content. But, luckily for advertisers, the show's writers and cast members have produced some of the most enduring commercial content over the years. Who can forget Bass-O-Matic, Mom Jeans, Happy Fun Ball, and these:
Totino's Super Bowl Commercial