Nonprofit groups that depend upon public service announcements to tell their stories are facing extreme competition for a severely limited amount of donated air time on television, according to a national study released Thursday by the Kaiser Family Foundation.
Broadcast and cable television allocate 15 seconds per hour for PSAs, and nearly half of that air time falls between midnight and 6 a.m., according to the report titled "Shouting to Be Heard." Only 9% of time made available for PSAs falls during prime time, according to the report.
The study confirms what's long been known--growing demand for television air time continues to dramatically outstrip the supply of available air time.
''I don't know what policymakers will think when they see our data," said Vicky Rideout, a vice president with the Menlo Park, Calif.-based foundation. "Our hope is that media companies will look at it and determine whether it accurately reflects the contributions they want to make to society."
Some broadcast industry players disagreed with key elements of the report, which was released during a panel discussion in Washington.
The National Assn. of Broadcasters, which estimates the value of PSAs that ran on local television in 2001 at $1.8 billion, disputed the determination that nearly half of PSAs run when most Americans are asleep. "Our research has found a pretty even distribution of PSAs throughout the various parts of the day," said NAB spokesman Dennis Wharton.
The New York-based Ad Council, which produces spots on crime, education, drunk driving and various health-related issues, said that 30% of its spots run during the middle of the night. Ad Council President Peggy Conlon described the study's methodology as "questionable," saying that the survey was too narrow in scope to provide definitive findings.
Researchers at the University of Indiana analyzed a week's worth of programming on the four broadcast networks (ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC), the Spanish-language Univision network and five cable networks (CNN, ESPN, MTV, Nickelodeon and TNT).
Researchers also polled public service directors at local television stations who determine which PSAs get on the air.
The study determined that networks dedicated an average of 17 seconds each hour for PSAs, including five seconds per hour during prime time programming. Cable networks averaged seven seconds of PSAs during an hour. In contrast, Univision averaged 48 seconds per hour and MTV weighed in with 16 seconds per hour.
The disparity between broadcast and cable is driven, industry observers said, by the federal requirement that broadcast outlets serve "the public interest, convenience and necessity." Broadcasters aren't required to run PSAs, but television stations use them as one measure of how they're serving the public interest, Wharton said.
Broadcasters will probably not free up significant amounts of time for additional PSAs, industry observers said.