Report: PSAs air in worst daypart

Feb 25, 2002  •  Post A Comment

Television broadcasters give away hundreds of millions of dollars of airtime each year for public service messages, but a new report says much of it is in the wee hours of the night.
According to “Shouting to Be Heard,” a study issued last week by the Kaiser Family Foundation, a philanthropic health group, 43 percent of all donated PSA time is between midnight and 6 a.m., the daypart with the fewest viewers.
Eighteen percent is between 6 p.m. and midnight, but only 9 percent is in prime time, the most heavily viewed period of the day.
“That’s not what our surveys have found,” said Dennis Wharton, spokesman for the National Association of Broadcasters. “It’s not a representative sample of the entire broadcast industry,” he said of the Kaiser report.
Vicky Rideout, vice president of the Kaiser Family Foundation, said the study confirms what a lot of groups already know: There’s competition “for a very small slice of the pie” and “pressure to make shorter spots.”
Broadcasters are not required to donate PSA time, but if they do so, they can apply it toward meeting their public-interest requirements.
The foundation, which examined more than 1,600 hours of broadcast and cable programming in 2000, found that two-thirds of all public service messages are donated spots and the remainder are purchased time.
Thirty-five percent of station executives interviewed said they’re more likely to give time to groups that have purchased time for PSAs, 11 percent said they’re less likely and 46 percent said it makes no difference.
The report finds that 56 percent of donated PSAs on major broadcast networks are 30 seconds long.
On average, major broadcast networks allot 17 seconds per hour to donated PSAs, with the figure dropping to five seconds per hour in prime time.
Meanwhile, cable channels donate an average of eight seconds in prime time to PSAs. About one-fourth of all PSAs are spots created by the networks, which often feature celebrities.
Health issues, including drug and alcohol abuse, cancer and other diseases, HIV/AIDS and smoking prevention, are the top issues addressed in donated PSAs.
Messages discussing local groups or events are second, with spots about crime and violence last. But viewers often see PSAs in prime time about smoking and crime prevention, among other issues, because groups have bought the time.