Something very unexpected has been happening in the world of broadcast television over the last few years. After decades of increasing the number of commercials shown each hour, many networks are beginning to cut back. Today NBC joined the club, announcing that it would trim the number of ads shown during Saturday Night Live by a whopping 30 percent next season. "As the decades have gone by, commercial time has grown," Lorne Michaels, SNL's creator and executive producer, told The Wrap. "This will give time back to the show and make it easier to watch the show live."
Ratings have been down across both cable and broadcast television in recent years, as younger viewers shift to on-demand services like Netflix and independent creators on YouTube. In response, media giants and the brands that advertise with them have begun to rethink their approach to marketing. Time Warner announced plans to cut the ad load on some TrueTV programming by 50 percent and Viacom is paring back commercials on MTV and Comedy Central. Vice, which recently joined the world of cable television, said from the outset it would be keeping advertising below the industry standard.
Cutting off a finger to try and save the arm
The hope is to reverse trends in viewership, and also to ensure that viewers aren't simply tuning out during long commercial breaks. Fox, for example, gave viewers the option of reducing commercial breaks on Hulu from two and a half minutes to just 30 seconds, but the ads are interactive. A user has to engage with the marketing, instead of say, muting the TV and checking Snapchat while ads roll. A similar trend has been playing out for online advertisers as well. The rise of ad blockers has made it difficult for digital publishers to serve readers advertising, while paywalls remain rare. This trend was part of the reason YouTube decided to release its Red subscription service, giving viewers the option to pay for a premium ad-free experience.
It's too soon to declare the death of advertising, but it seems clear the medium is in the midst of a major transformation. Reading the spin of modern-day Mad Men on this trend, it certainly feels like they are whistling to the gallows. Linda Yaccarino, NBC Universal's chairman of advertising sales and client partnerships, talks about the decision to cut back ads on SNL saying, "Since 1975, ‘SNL’ has shaped and driven conversation. We are excited to try something new and unique that will shape and drive advertiser content, too."