But the number of people who have watched the clips on the web is closing fast, and will soon surpass the 15 million that watched on TV, if it hasn't already.
The traction is real
Two clips of the Alaska governor on "SNL," her fake press conference and appearance on "Weekend Update," have racked up 6.1 million views on NBC.com. Derivative versions such as those used in news coverage, as well as pirated versions of the clips, have been viewed another 2.85 million times on sites like YouTube, MySpace and Yahoo, according to web video measurement firm Visible Measures.
Combined, the videos have been viewed 8.85 million times since Sunday, an impressive number in four days. But that doesn't include what may be the biggest source of online viewing: NBCU and News Corp.'s joint venture Hulu.com.
Neither Hulu nor NBC will provide Hulu's streaming numbers, but they're likely to be high. Hulu streamed four times as many videos (142 million) as NBC.com (36 million) during September, according to Nielsen's Video Census. While it's possible a high percentage of viewers looking for "SNL" clips would go first to NBC.com, it's also likely that Hulu counts for as many, if not more, views as NBC. The opening skit with Tina Fey holding a press conference as Sarah Palin, while the real VP nominee looked on, was the No. 3 most watched Hulu clip this week, while the clip of Amy Poehler's Palin rap sat at No. 2.
Hulu numbers are regularly included in NBC's Total Audience Measurement Index, which tallies viewership for web and mobile platforms as well as TV on a weekly basis for prime-time shows, but not late night.
Online video streams and Nielsen ratings aren't comparable -- the Nielsen viewers are unique; streams aren't. But the point is that the online clip will ultimately expose "SNL" to a lot more viewers than TV alone. And with pre-roll advertising running on NBC.com and Hulu.com, it is also adding revenue. On NBC.com, a pre-roll for HSBC was shown before the "SNL" skit, while on Hulu ads for products such as Oil of Olay, Right Guard and Travelocity have been shown.
NBC says "SNL" 's election-related clips have been viewed 45 million times on NBC.com since the season premiere Sept. 13.