NBC Can’t Settle on An Online Home for ‘Saturday Night Live’

NBC Can’t Settle on An Online Home for ‘Saturday Night Live’

Here we go again. The good folks behind Saturday Night Live have just announced another way to watch the late-night stalwart on streaming, this time via a free, ad-supported TV (FAST) channel available on Amazon Freevee and Xumo, just the latest alphabet-soup streamers that we pray are included on our Firestick. Hurray, we guess? Free is good (currently, SNL reruns are only available on Peacock where even the $4.99/month version includes commercials) but given SNL’s history, how long do we expect this FAST business to last? Did SNL finally crack the online code or is this just the latest in a series of streaming debacles that come and go more often than Martin Short cameos?

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The irony, of course, is that SNL helped make streaming video happen in the first place. The digital short Lazy Sunday might have been the first video ever to go viral, introducing America to a then-unknown service called YouTube. Bingo! Here was a way for the maturing SNL to reach an entirely new generation of viewers. So of course, NBC sued YouTube and forced it to yank the video from its service. In hindsight, Lorne Michaels could see what a stupid move that was. “You would think that somebody would have gone, ‘Let’s just buy this thing or figure it out,’” he says in SNL oral history Live From New York.

Nope. The powers that be assumed young viewers in 2006 would be more interested in searching for SNL content at its awkwardAF corporate site, nbc.com. Surprise! That strategy didn’t work, leaving the show without a viable online home. What followed was a series of strategies that turned out to be no strategy at all. There were short-term deals with Netflix and Hulu in 2010 to air every episode — that arrangement went poof in a year. Then Yahoo inked an exclusive deal to air sketch clips on its clunky-ass video player in 2013. When Yahoo imploded a few short years later, NBC moved SNL over to its new comedy streaming platform, Seeso. Remember Seeso? Didn’t think so.

Did you have the SNL app, the next exclusive home for the show’s vast library of content? That launched in 2015 with great promise: Search by cast member! Search by season! It hung on for a few years before dying a quiet, undignified death. 


Then in 2019, it was off to Peacock, where NBC built a service offering only a few shows from each season to a relatively robust library today, albeit one with most shows edited down to an hour or less. Possible reasons why: 1) expensive music rights; 2) Lorne is ashamed of some old content; 3) entertainment executives love completely arbitrary decisions that mess with our heads.

Here’s what’s maddening about the ping-ponging of SNL all over the Internet: There’s nothing more valuable in 2023 than beloved intellectual property, especially IP that people will stream for hours on end like The Office or Seinfeld. But NBC and Broadway Video just can’t decide what to do with nearly 50 years of classic comedy — or at least, it can’t pick a lane for more than a year or two. There’s nothing wrong with a comedy buffet line that includes YouTube, Peacock, and whatever the hell a Xumo is, but we have a simple request for SNL: Find yourself an online home, build it out — would complete episodes, cut-for-time scenes, and featurettes be so hard? — and then stay there for a while. 

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