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Saturday Night Live Season 45 in Review, with TV Ad Insights

At the end of season 45, “Saturday Night Live” looked nothing like what it did back in September of 2019, for obvious reasons. Production issues created by COVID-19 and related quarantines ground numerous shows to a halt. But one like “SNL” — which is filmed live, weekly in front of a studio audience — is met with some additional challenges.

And still, “SNL” managed three new episodes from home, tasking cast members with a different level of creativity than perhaps they’re accustomed to, while granting new solo opportunities for performers who’d been previously underutilized. The results may have been uneven at times, but that’s also par for the course given how comedy’s evolved around the show through nearly five decades. Audiences are still tuning in, though. And according to iSpot.tv, both impressions and estimated TV ad spend during this past Saturday’s season finale were among the highest for the show since late September.

While “SNL” remains a TV stalwart, it also doesn’t have many stalwart advertisers over the course of a season. Apple TV+ had a higher estimated spend than any other brand at $1.4 million, and that still made up just 2.6% of an estimated $54.4 million all season. Over 320 brands accounted for 490 minutes and 15 seconds of ads from September 28, 2019 through May 9. Just three brands spent over $1 million advertising during “SNL” during season 45: Apple TV+, Apple iPhone and T-Mobile. Apple’s also had a sponsorship deal with the show in the past, usually revolving around the musical guest.

Which brands were actually earning attention, though? Utilizing iSpot’s attention score (percentage of an ad that is played across a TV device), we can measure which ads were keeping viewers locked in. Below is a list of the top five brand advertisers by attention score, with a minimum spend of $100,000 on “SNL” this past season:

  1. Searchlight Pictures (Attention Score: 98.90; 88% less likely to be interrupted)
  2. VitaFusion (Attention Score: 96.90; 65% less likely to be interrupted)
  3. Walt Disney Pictures (Attention Score: 96.68; 62% less likely to be interrupted)
  4. TRELEGY (Attention Score: 96.58; 61% less likely to be interrupted)
  5. Disney+ (Attention Score: 96.46; 60% less likely to be interrupted)

Notably, three of the top five brands there are Disney-owned properties, and one of those is Disney+ — a direct competitor to NBC Universal streaming service Peacock. NBCU’s noted that it will not air streaming rivals’ ads on Peacock, but no word on linear TV. Disney+ ads appeared just once during “SNL,” right around launch week last year (it was Saturday, November 16). Still, Netflix ads last aired during SNL in early March 2020 and Apple TV+ was running ads during the show in late April.

On an impressions basis, movies, wireless services, streaming services and department stores were the top advertiser industries for “SNL” during season 45. That stayed fairly consistent with data from season 44 (which had three more episodes), though that season also had automaker brands more involved (were 4.6% of impressions).