Early `SNL’ ends

Feb 26, 2001  •  Post A Comment

NBC’s “experiment” with airing “Saturday Night Live” in prime time on West Coast-based affiliates came to an abrupt end this past weekend.
Citing potential “cannibalization” of “SNL’s” primary 11:30 p.m. to 1 a.m. runs in the Pacific time zone, NBC is now planning to provide movies and specials to West Coast stations to air after the XFL broadcasts.
But the network is also giving affiliates the option to air local news and syndicated programming otherwise pre-empted by the 5 p.m.-to-8 p.m. (PT) run of XFL games nationally.
“From the start, we have looked at this as an experiment, but we came to realize for the three weeks that the late-night numbers for `SNL’ often exceeded the prime-time ratings,” said Alan Wurtzel, NBC’s president of research and media development.
NBC’s effort to get a ratings bounce out of prime-time runs of “SNL” may have been also adversely affected by a softer-than-expected ratings lead-in from XFL telecasts over the last two weeks.
In particular, “SNL’s” 9:30 p.m.-to-11 p.m. run on five NBC stations on the West Coast averaged a 4.7 household rating and a 9 share in Nielsen Media Research’s metered markets on Feb. 10 and 17. Over the same span, the XFL’s last two weeks of games had averaged a 3.8/12 nationally in households, tracking about 23 percent below `SNL’ prime time.
However, Mr. Wurtzel said the declining ratings for the new football league did not play a factor. Instead, he said the decision to discontinue live “SNL” broadcasts on the West Coast had more to with concern about “restoring normal viewing patterns” in late-night for the venerable Saturday staple.
“To be honest, there was also some concern about cannibalization, where some viewers who might have watched it early, but might not have stayed for [its] primary late-night run,” Mr. Wurtzel said. “The decision to end [the prime-time run] was really an issue of protecting what has been a valuable 26-year franchise for the network. It was just an experiment, and it was not a major problem, so no one really got hurt from this.”
The five West Coast metered markets-Los Angeles; Seattle; Portland, Ore.; San Diego; and Las Vegas-airing “SNL” in prime time registered a 5.1/10 average in households Feb. 17. The latest “SNL” prime-time telecast did mark a 19 percent week-to-week improvement over its Feb. 10 broadcast, when the comedy showcase, with Jennifer Lopez hosting, averaged a 4.3/8 in the same five metered markets.
Bill Carroll, vice president and director of programming for station rep firm Katz Television Group, agreed that NBC’s West Coast stations may have also been hurt by “disruptive” overruns from XFL games airing Feb. 3 and Feb. 10. Particularly damaging was the Feb. 10 double-overtime game between the Chicago Enforcers and Los Angeles Xtreme, which caused a 45-minute overrun into late-night and prime time on both coasts.
“The double overtime seems to have negatively impacted `SNL’ on both coasts, no matter which way you look at it,” Mr. Carroll said. “It really doesn’t appear [NBC] is getting any kind of major positive bump from the West Coast ratings in prime time.”
On the whole, however, “SNL” remained competitive in prime time, ranking second or third in its five metered markets. In its Feb. 17 prime-time run in Los Angeles (on KNBC-TV), “SNL’s” 5.3/9 household average finished second in the 9:30 p.m.-to-11 p.m. time frame. NBC-owned KNSD-TV in San Diego tied for second in the market at a 5.5/11 household rating for the same time period.
KGW-TV in Portland, Ore, a Hearst-Argyle-owned station, registered a third-ranked 4.1/9; KVBC-TV in Las Vegas, a Sunbelt Communications-owned NBC affiliate, came in third with a 5.8/10; while Belo-owned KING-TV was ranked fourth in the time slot with a 4.8/10 average.
Still, Mr. Wurtzel said the late-night run of “SNL” had been averaging a 6.5/17 in households during the first three weeks of February sweeps nationally (up 16 percent from year-ago sweeps), roughly 40 percent better than what the five West Coast metered markets averaged in the sweeps.