How SNL is using hosts and musical guests to win over younger audiences

20 April, 2023

When we last did a deep dive on “Saturday Night Live,” the venerable sketch comedy show was facing some headwinds going into its 48th season. Its 47th season was the first time in six years where the show saw a decline in audience demand. On top of that, a wave of cast retirements at the end of last season had set the show up for some growing pains as a new generation of cast members found their footing. However, with change comes opportunity and this could be a pivotal year for the show to make inroads with the younger audiences it has been trying to win over.


Looking at the current audience demographics for “SNL,” we can see that it clearly resonates most with the oldest generations. 28.7% of the audience for “SNL” belonged to Gen X or an older generation, the largest share of the four age groups we looked at. Each younger generation represents a smaller share of the show’s audience, with Gen Z accounting for only 19.5%. The challenge facing “Saturday Night Live” is clear - if it wants to be around for another 48 seasons it must win over the youngest generations.

To accomplish this, the show can leverage more than its new generation of cast members to win over the next generation of viewers. The show has a rich history of pushing boundaries and taking risks and one way it has continued this in recent years is by exploring new comedy formats. Last season, the comedy trio Please Don’t Destroy was brought in to create pre-recorded videos to feature on the show. With an absurdist sense of humor honed on Twitter and TikTok, the group was primed to appeal to the younger audiences “SNL” needs to attract. Their contributions over the past two seasons have produced some of the most viral segments from the show.

But perhaps the most powerful tool the show can employ to stay relevant and target the youngest audiences are its weekly host and musical guest. Our analysis of the hosts and musical guests so far this season reveals how the talent selected to guest host and perform have strongly appealed to younger audiences.


The audiences for a clear majority of hosts and musical guests this season strongly skewed toward the younger generations. Megan Thee Stallion and SZA were the youngest skewing talent on the show this season. Over 85% of the audience for each of these singers came from the under 30 age group. The musical guests in general tend to have younger audiences than the hosts. Only 3 of the musical guests this season had a majority of their audience come from the over-30 age group (Kelsea Ballerini, Jack White, and Brandi Carlile).

The hosts with the most appeal for older audiences this season were traditional comedians. Molly Shannon, Amy Schumer, Steve Martin, and Martin Short all have more than 70% of their audience from people over 30. Shannon and Short are both former cast members and Steve Martin is one of the most prolific hosts of the show. We have previously measured how alumni of the show tend to generate the highest demand for the show when they host. Inviting these comedians back makes sense as a tactic for doubling down with established audiences and giving them familiar faces they crave, but may be a short term boost at the expense of a long term strategy for the show that would prioritize attracting new audiences to the show and setting it up for another generation of cultural relevance.

The long-running fixture of American TV cannot afford to rest on its laurels and expect to have the same cultural impact without updating its offering to attract younger audiences. To remain relevant, “SNL” needs to take steps to make itself appealing to this crucial audience segment. The hosts and musical guests this season seem to indicate a commitment by the show to cultivating the next generation of “SNL” fans by investing in guest talent that they want.

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