'SNL' Thrives in Politically Charged 2020

Pictured: (l-r) Kenan Thompson as Uncle Ben, host Dave Chappelle as the "Allstate guy", and Pete Davidson as Count Chocula during the "Uncle Ben" sketch on Saturday, Nov. 7, 2020
Pictured: (l-r) Kenan Thompson as Uncle Ben, host Dave Chappelle as the "Allstate guy", and Pete Davidson as Count Chocula during the "Uncle Ben" sketch on Saturday, November 7, 2020 (Image credit: Will Heath/NBC)

NBC’s Saturday Night Live generally thrives in election years, and 2020 appeared to be yet another example of that lift.

On the year, SNL has 2.5 billion views on YouTube — which is about 7% lower than last year but also featured over 200 fewer video uploads. According to Tubular Audience Ratings, SNL had 20.7 million unique viewers across YouTube and Facebook in November 2020 — good for 116th across global creators on the two platforms. With 973.4 million minutes watched, SNL was 25th overall globally as well. 

Riding political content, October was the show’s best month of the year, with 395.8 million views and over 1.1 billion minutes watched.

Further utilizing Tubular, V3 data (views in the first three days since uploading) allows us to compare SNL’s YouTube videos across all of 2020, to see which were most popular in the days immediately following airing on TV. To little surprise, most of the top videos were politically focused, though there were some exceptions.

Top 10 SNL videos of 2020, by V3:

  1. First Debate Cold Open (16.2 million)
  2. Biden Victory Cold Open (13.3 million)
  3. Dr. Anthony Fauci Cold Open (11.9 million)
  4. Undercover Boss: Where Are They Now? (11.1 million)
  5. VP Fly Debate Cold Open (10.5 million)
  6. Dave Chappelle Stand-Up Monologue (9.7 million)
  7. Final Debate Cold Open (8.7 million)
  8. Dueling Town Halls Cold Open (7.5 million)
  9. Coronavirus Cold Open (5.4 million)
  10. Uncle Ben (5.3 million)

Notably, eight of the top 10 videos were from the current season, which started in the fall. And all but one (“Uncle Ben”) was politically focused. Dave Chappelle was also in two of the videos: his stand-up monologue on the Saturday following the U.S. presidential election and the aforementioned “Uncle Ben” skit. Additionally, five of the top 15 videos by V3 for the entire year came from Chappelle’s Nov. 8 hosting gig.

SNL’s success wasn’t limited to social video, either. In a year where TV tentpole events were hard to come by, the show still managed to succeed, especially once the most recent season got started and leaned all the way into content around the upcoming election.

Looking at live, new episodes only via iSpot, estimated TV ad spend was up 102.8% during SNL in 2020 (for the period from Jan. 1 through Dec. 14), landing at $107.1 million. TV ad impressions during the show were also up 18.5%, to 3.20 billion. The show was 13th by impressions among all shows on NBC in the timeframe, vs. 23rd in 2019.

Brands benefited from the uptick in interest as well, clearly, based on the ad impressions increase. Of the top 10 brands by impressions during SNL in 2020, six saw year-over-year increases — led by Verizon, also the most-seen advertisers, at 349%. As a result of that and T-Mobile’s own 33% increase during the show, wireless ad impressions were up 95.7% for SNL this year, to lead all industries. Verizon also had the most-seen ad during SNL, with “The 5G Frontier” garnering 37.6 million impressions.

The image below shows the top 10 brand advertisers during SNL ranked by impressions, plus year-over-year shifts.

Top 'Saturday Night Live' advertisers in 2020

John Cassillo is an analyst and contributor with TV[R]EV.