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Ad Prices Soar at NBC’s ‘Saturday Night Live’ (EXCLUSIVE)

Colin Jost, Michael Che, Kate McKinnon and Kenan Thompson try each week to make people laugh during various sketches on “Saturday Night Live.” They may have reason to smile on their own.

Ad prices for the venerable late-night NBC mainstay have soared over the past season, making the show as expensive a buy for Madison Avenue as some of TV’s top-rated primetime programs, according to estimates from media buyers as well as data from Standard Media Index, a tracker of ad spending.

A 30-second spot in the current season of “Saturday Night Live,” its 43rd, has sold in recent weeks for between $100,000 and $300,000, according to data from SMI. A person familiar with the matter says NBC has been seeking $230,000 for a 30-second ad in TV’s scatter market, when advertisers buy commercial time closer to air date. Meanwhile, the average cost of a 30-second ad in “SNL” during TV’s recent upfront sales season was $183,730, according to estimates from ad buyers.

To put those numbers in perspective, a package of ads in AMC’s “The Walking Dead” goes for more than $400,000 while a 30-second spot in ABC’s “Modern Family” costs more than $200,000. NBC declined to make executives available for comment.

These have not been the normal prices for the decades-old comedy showcase. The average cost of a 30-second ad in the show’s 2016-2017 season was $147,000, according to Standard Media Index. In the prior season, the average cost of a 30-second spot was $89,500, and the average cost of a half-minute commercial in the 2014-2015 season came to $92,500.

But these have not been normal times for “Saturday Night Live.”  The show is enjoying a period of heightened ratings and relevance, thanks to its recent satire of the Trump administration, a rejuvenated “Weekend Update” segment and breakout performances by cast members like McKinnon and Leslie Jones.  NBC began airing the show late last season simultaneously across the country. For decades, viewers on the West Coast had to wait until 11:30 p.m. their time to see the program – three hours behind viewers in East Coast markets like Miami or Boston. As part of that move, NBC began to press for “SNL” to get pricing more in line with primetime programming.

NBC has also restructured the program to accommodate a different sort of TV viewer. The “SNL” devotees who watched Chevy Chase, Larraine Newman and John Belushi in the 1970s made a conscious decision to turn on the TV at 11:30 p.m. on Saturday night and watch the program as it aired in their market.  But fans of the show in 2017 don’t have to watch Cecily Strong or Leslie Jones at the time the show airs. They can catch up on sketches using YouTube or follow the show’s Twitter feed.

With that in mind, NBC last season made some changes to present the linear broadcast of “SNL” in a fashion more attuned to TV’s rising generation of viewers.  The network cut 30% of the show’s commercial load – equivalent to two ad breaks – leaving time for more “SNL” content. NBC has also worked to have “SNL” staffers create commercials for specific sponsors, an effort that got off to a slow start late last season.

The increases may raise eyebrows. Using this season’s average cost of $183,730 as a base, the price of a 30-second ad in the show has increased nearly 99% since 2015. Using the $230,000 price tag, the cost of advertising in the show has soared almost 149%.

Meanwhile, advertisers paying $300,000 could be seeing an increase of 224%. The Standard Media Index data indicates that retailers are paying some of the show’s higher prices while consumer-products companies who often have longstanding deals with networks that limit yearly price increases, are paying for the lower-cost spots.

Last week’s broadcast of “Saturday Night Live” featured commercials from General Electric, Dunkin’ Donuts, State Farm Insurance and Warner Brothers’ “Justice League” movie. The show’s top advertisers last season were Apple, Google, Warner Brothers, Sprint and Volkswagen, according to data from Kantar Media.

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