Saturday Night Live (SNL, May 2nd) mocked itself in the opening segment with a skit on Pacquiao-Mayweather fight in which the actors decided to forego the sketch, walk off the set, and watch the much anticipated fight. Yet, on the fake Pacquiao’s shorts there were a number of real company logos, one of which was a client. It sparked a discussion among some peers─in the age of social media, just how important is product placement on traditional television?

Product placement on television can be a mixed bag. It’s expensive and time consuming─from setting up the contract to monitoring performance. Add to that the fragmentation of audiences, plus the shift to digital streaming, and many companies are rethinking the investment, asking “Is it worth it?”

Many successful series are experiencing this shift. Coca-Cola has pulled its signature cups from the judges’ table on American Idol; Hyundai has pulled out of The Walking Dead. Perhaps it’s the crossroad of long-term repeated viewing versus immediate pop culture relevancy that is accentuating the changes on both sides of the equation; content and advertising.

TV Viewing Patterns Today

Similar to how the iPod changed music, technology is changing television─rapidly. No longer is television programming funneled through a single use device. Consumers can access programming via multiple screens at any time.

According to IAB’s recent study, one in three adults own a connected TV or smart TV, a television set with integrated internet and Web 2.0 features. Of these owners, 38% say they spend 50% of their TV viewing time actually streaming media. And a majority of these streamers say the new content options are as good as or better than traditional TV.

According to Nielsen’s Total Audience Report Q4 2014, over 40% of TV homes have subscription video on demand (SVOD) access. Netflix access was by far the leading SVOD service (36%), with Amazon Prime a distant second (13%), and Hulu Plus third (6.5%). These households are characterized as high-tech, higher income households with smart TVs, DVRs, and video game consoles as well as multiple PCs and tablets─which are all target audiences for advertisers.

Translating to Online Product Placement

There is an art to television product placement which is dependent on many factors─much more complex than will be discussed here. Yet, with so many television viewers obtaining programming from multiple sources, how can companies actually reach the maximum number of people that comprise their target audiences?

The answer lies in programming that tends to go viral, has immediate pop culture relevance, is generally unique, and has the potential to turn into social media buzz, which is today’s equivalent of “water cooler talk.”

This type of programming typically includes sitcoms, late-night programming, and memorable news segments. The similar characteristic is that the point of the segment can be reached quickly and without a lot of context.

Saturday Night Live skits are a great measure of the success of product placement─having a brand associated with a celebrity or event being so synonymous that it is included as needed background for the skit. Add in the pop culture “news of the day” relevancy of the skit and there is a good chance that the segment will be shared over social media as well as discussed over the airways.

The Manny Pacquiao versus Floyd Mayweather fight was one of the most watched bouts in modern boxing history.

The Manny Pacquiao versus Floyd Mayweather fight was one of the most watched bouts in modern boxing history. Yet with the diverse SNL audience, repeated viewings on various devices, and the viral nature of the sketch, even more impressions were made on many, many real viewers.

— yet with the diverse SNL audience, plus repeated viewings on various different devices, and the viral nature of the sketch made impressions on many, many real viewers.

Changing viewing habits and technology may mean that everyone is consuming their media in a multitude of ways, but an inadvertent logo placement in an SNL skit that has already received over two million views on YouTube shows us that there is still incredible value in being seen and re-seen. The audience is still out there─we just need to remember to think of all avenues in which media is consumed. And know that it is possible to reach untold numbers of people in one punch.