Trump Continues to Be Lucrative for Cable News Networks, and SNL

Ad revenue has surged in the past year

Ad rates for the Jan. 14 episode of Saturday Night Live were up 86% from a year earlier. Will Heath/NBC
Headshot of Jason Lynch

Regardless of what one thinks about Donald Trump’s presidency, it’s been an unqualified success in at least one area: the ad revenue surge it’s providing to the networks and shows that are covering it. Cable news networks and Saturday Night Live saw hefty year-over-year increases in January, according to new data from Standard Media Index.

According to SMI, which tracks 70 percent of national ad spending from global and independent agencies, ad unit costs for the two SNL episodes that aired in January—one hosted by Felicity Jones, the other by Aziz Ansari—jumped 86 percent from a year earlier, to $111,045 for the Jones episode and $119,442 for Ansari’s.

That’s due in part to increased CPMs (cost per thousand impressions) this season as NBCU reduced SNL’s ad load by around 30 percent, removing two commercial breaks per episode. That ad reduction will be made up in part by the addition of branded content spots; Mark Marshall, evp of entertainment group advertising sales for NBCUniversal, told Adweek last week that the first of two branded content pods will air in the coming weeks.

But even with that reduced ad load, SNL’s estimated ad revenue jumped 34 percent year over year for the first January episode, to $2.1 million, and 22 percent for the second episode, to $2.0 million.

Cable news networks and Saturday Night Live saw hefty year-over-year increases in January.

Broadcast and cable news also enjoyed a substantial Trump bump in January, with ad revenue up 10.3 percent from a year earlier. The three cable news networks saw a 31.2 percent increase overall: 19.9 percent for CNN, 49.2 percent for MSNBC and 34.2 percent for Fox News. The average unit cost across all dayparts on each of the three networks has also skyrocketed year over year: 48 percent for Fox News, 28.8 percent for CNN and 50.1 percent for MSNBC.

Those increases gave a big revenue boost to the first weeks of Tucker Carlson’s Fox News show, which replaced Megyn Kelly’s program on Jan. 9. The average 30-second spot in January for Tucker Carlson Tonight was $13,537, a 26.7 percent increase over the $10,684 that The Kelly File was receiving a year earlier.

During its first two full weeks on the air, Tucker Carlson Tonight was up 37 percent in total viewers and 50 percent in the 25-54 demo compared to the 2016 average of The Kelly File in that hour.

Beyond Trump TV, the January TV market saw ad revenue increases of 5.7 percent versus a year ago. (Cable jumped 8.2 percent, while broadcast was up 2.8 percent.) Excluding sports programming, however, broadcast was flat, with increases of just 0.2 percent. However, cable was up 7.5 percent, thanks to entertainment programming.

Beyond Trump TV, the January TV market saw ad revenue increases of 5.7 percent versus a year ago.

NBC saw a 9.8 percent increase in January ad spend, thanks to SNL and the Golden Globes, which averaged $529,000 per spot (up 4.2 percent from a year earlier) and brought NBC around $32 million in revenue. The CW was up 14.7 percent and Fox was basically flat with a 0.3 decrease, but the other two broadcasters saw revenue drops.

CBS was down 2.5 percent, and ABC saw a 5.1 decrease, despite the return of The Bachelor and Scandal to its lineup. Scandal’s season premiere averaged $177,000 per 30-second spot, down 18 percent from the $215,000 average for last year’s midseason premiere.

On the cable side, HGTV surged to a 17.2 increase over January 2016, while TNT was up 14.3 percent and TBS jumped 7.5 percent. USA Network, however, was down 5 percent.

Digital ad spend was up 6.3 percent year-over-year in January, compared to the 15 to 20 percent increases from a year earlier, indicating a continued shift back to linear advertising.

“SMI’s latest data reflects the fact that leading marketers, including Coke and P&G, have firmly come to the conclusion that linear TV is still the powerhouse of ROI. A lot of digital experimentation last year didn’t deliver the expected results and advertisers are flooding back to tried and trusted mediums,” said SMI CEO James Fennessy in a statement.

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