This past Thursday, NBC aired a special primetime Saturday Night Live which featured a retrospect of the show over the past decade. And in a sign of the times, an entire segment was given to the impact of SNL’s “digital shorts.”
If there is any question as to why portable content and cross-channel media distribution is important, just ask Lorne Michaels (SNL Executive Producer). In an interview during the show, Lorne touted the fact that the massive amounts of views through content sharing of the digital shorts online has brought a whole new audience to the (TV) show. “People who hadn’t seen the show had seen [the web videos] and that then brings them to the show.”
And if cast member Andy Samberg and his two college buddies never took a risk and shot Lettuce, SNL’s first digital short would never have come to be. It wasn’t until their third one, Lazy Sunday, that “blew the roof off the place” and Andy Samberg was recognized on the street for the first time. NOT because of the TV show, but because of YouTube.
One SNL producer mentioned that the reason that many SNL sketches “go viral” is because their show, inherently, is built for [the web] “little 3 minute clips which is about as much as you want to watch online – and we’ve got a lot of them!”
But as we all know, content is key and just because you make a video and upload it to YouTube doesn’t mean people want to watch (and share) it. It takes a certain kind of magic that is hard to reproduce for something to be considered “viral.” Just like bad products won’t sell no matter how much you try to market them, bad content won’t be consumed either.
And when Justin Timberlake sang alongside Andy Samberg in “%&$# in a box” (a hat tip to early 90s cheesy R&B), Jimmy Fallon recounted, “people were crying” (with laughter) and the video spread like wildfire online.
And that is why SNL’s digital shorts are described as "a gateway drug into SNL". They’ve become “a way in” to the TV show for a growing number of people whose first exposure to Saturday Night Live is online, not broadcast TV.