Are the Trump-Promised Ratings Spikes Worth the Trouble for Networks?

When Donald Trump hosts “Saturday Night Live” on Nov. 7, he’d better bring in great ratings.

The network is enduring protests from some Latino groups and the vocal wrath of an Illinois congressman, not to mention the very real prospect that one or more of his rivals will request equal time.

The calculation is that audience size will outweigh the negatives — a bet NBC and all the other networks seem eager to make.

Perhaps no other recent presidential candidate has held so much sway over network bookings, as a Trump appearance holds the promise of a ratings spike.

Trump’s sit-down on “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon” on Sept. 11 averaged 4.46 million viewers, the largest on a Friday for Fallon in 18 months. His visit to “The Late Show With Stephen Colbert” averaged 4.56 million, the show’s second largest to date (after its premiere), and enough to beat Fallon in total viewers.

Entertaining Arguments
Republican debates have been popular
22.9m Audience for CNN’s Reagan Library debate
24m Audience for Fox News’ Cleveland debate

In August, Fox News chief Roger Ailes called Trump’s attack on Megyn Kelly “as unacceptable as it is disturbing,” and Trump himself has engaged in an on-again, off-again boycott of the network. But his recent interviews have drawn hefty numbers, including on “Fox News Sunday,” which drew its highest ratings in more than six years Oct. 18, with Trump as guest.

After record ratings for Fox News and CNN for coverage of the first two GOP debates, CNBC seemingly had little choice but to accede to the demands of Trump and co-frontrunner Ben Carson not to let the Republicans’ Oct. 28 gathering stretch beyond two hours. When the network initially proposed something longer, and without opening and closing statements, the pair threatened to back out.

The National Hispanic Media Coalition and the National Council of La Raza are among groups that have asked NBC to rescind the “SNL” invitation, criticizing the network for giving Trump the starring role on one of its signature shows not long after severing ties with him in June over derogatory statements he made about undocumented immigrants.

Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) sees it as a matter of degree. “Having Donald Trump as a guest on every news and entertainment program is one thing, but allowing him to host ‘Saturday Night Live’ is another,” he wrote in a letter to NBC and Comcast.

Trump’s appearance also may cost affiliates, as it likely will trigger FCC equal time rules, which allow rival candidates to demand the same length of airplay. NBC may even seek to limit Trump’s overall screen time, out of caution.

In 2003, when Al Sharpton hosted “SNL” as he was starting his campaign for the Democratic nomination, Joseph Lieberman demanded equal time, and was given it on some stations. “I guess the benefits outweigh some of the elements of the headache,” said James Andrew Miller, co-author of “SNL” book “Live From New York.” “This is going to be a huge thing for ‘Saturday Night Live.’ If he were to brush his teeth tomorrow morning and CNN put it on, it would get a number.”

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