Nearly half of all PSAs aired on US television stations in 2005 ran between midnight and 6AM, reinforcing the true meaning of the acronym. The finding is from the Kaiser Family Foundation report released today: Shouting To Be Heard (2): Public Service Advertising in a Changing Television World. Perhaps more sobering for the true believers in PSAs is that this figure has not significantly changed since 2000 and is part of the total of 0.5% of airtime given to communications for the public good.
Further evidence of the deterioration of Public Service Advertising is that the report now distinguishes between 'donated' PSAs and 'paid' ones (only 27% of those run after midnight and 51% are by for-profit companies).
Some other sobering facts for those with visions of using television in their campaigns:
- One in five donated PSAs (20%) specifically addressed a local issue, cause or event, while 80% were national in scope.
- English-language broadcast stations assessed by the study (ABC, CBS, Fox, and NBC) donated an average of 18 seconds an hour to PSAs.
- The cable stations (CNN, ESPN, MTV, Nickelodeon, and TNT) donated an average of 15 seconds an hour. The Spanish language network (Univision) donated an average of 29 seconds per hour to PSAs. (The overall average across all types of stations was 17 seconds an hour).
- Health was the most common PSA topic, accounting for 26% of all donated PSAs. A wide variety of health issues were addressed, with the most frequent being fitness (6% of all donated PSAs), cancer (4%), HIV/AIDS (3%), and overall wellness (3%).
- Fund-raising was a close second at 23%.
- Environmental issues accounted for 4% of all donated PSAs.
- Eight percent of all donated PSAs specifically targeted children or teens. Two percent specifically targeted seniors.
- The proportion featuring a Web address increased from 32 percent in 2000 to 75 percent in 2005, while the proportion with a toll-free telephone number decreased from 49 percent to 38 percent over the same period.
- Nonprofits were the most common sponsors of donated PSAs (71% were sponsored or co-sponsored by a nonprofit). More than a third (38%) of all spots listed a media company as a sponsor or cosponsor. Government agencies sponsored or co-sponsored 15 percent of all donated spots, with for-profit companies co-sponsoring eight percent of all donated spots.
The report notes that while the debate has raged for years over requiring broadcasters to dedicate a certain amount of time to communications for the public good in return for their access to public airwaves (say 1min/hour compared to the current 17 seconds), one might expect this issue to spillover into new media and mobile phones in the next few years.
A viewer would have to watch more than 200 hours of television before they’d see even a single hour of donated PSAs; and during that time, they’d see more than 50 hours of ads and promos...This report offers a sobering reminder to national and local nonprofits that relying solely on donated PSAs on television may provide neither the reach nor the frequency that public education campaigns need.
And the Ad Council, the industry-supported and largest producer and distributor of PSAs reported revenues in 2007 of $38.7 million. Not bad for a questionable approach to affect positive social change.