Kaiser Family Foundation Study: TV Stations Donate an Average of 17 Secs an Hour to PSAs

Nearly Half (46%) of All PSAs Air After Midnight

[Source: KFF.org] While the media environment is evolving rapidly, television continues to be the dominant medium used by the American public. TV advertising is therefore still a core component of most major public service campaigns, on topics such as childhood obesity, drunk driving, or cancer prevention. To help inform the work of non-profits seeking to communicate with the public, the Kaiser Family Foundation is releasing a new, updated study that examines the extent and nature of public service advertising (PSA) on both broadcast and cable television.

The report – Shouting To Be Heard (2): Public Service Advertising in a Changing Television World – found that broadcast and cable stations in the study donated an average of 17 seconds an hour to PSAs – totaling one-half of one percent of all TV airtime. The most frequent time period for PSAs to air was between midnight and 6 a.m., accounting for 46% of donated PSAs across all stations in the study; looking only at broadcast stations, 60% of donated PSAs ran overnight. The time period with the fewest donated PSAs was during prime time (8-11 p.m.), with 13% of all donated PSAs.

The most common issue among donated PSAs was health (26% of all donated PSAs), followed by fundraising (23%), family and social concerns (12%), community organizations or events (8%), and volunteerism (6%).

“PSAs can be an important tool, but obviously they have to be seen to be effective,” said Vicky Rideout, vice president and Director of Kaiser’s Program for the Study of Entertainment Media and Health. “With so little airtime being made available, making sure PSAs get seen frequently by their target audience can be a daunting task.”

This report updates a previous study released in 2002 which allows for some comparisons over time. While the time allotted to donated PSAs increased from 7 seconds to 15 seconds per hour on cable television during this period, overall, there was no statistically significant change in the average amount of time donated to PSAs when broadcast television was factored in. Also during this period, the study found that paid commercial advertising increased from 11:45 of ads per hour to 12:25. In addition, during this period the proportion of donated ads featuring a Web address increased form 32% to 75%.

The Kaiser report was released today at a forum that featured Federal Communications Commission Members Michael Copps, Jonathan Adelstein, and Deborah Taylor Tate along with representatives from News Corporation, CBS, Time Warner, Univision, the Ad Council and the American Legacy Foundation. A webcast of the event is available at http://www.kff.org/entmedia/entmedia012408pkg.cfm.

Additional key findings:

Time Allotted to Donated PSAs

  • 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).
  • Most donated PSAs were 30 seconds long. Twenty-two percent were less than 30 seconds, and 10 percent were longer than 30 seconds.

Time of Day Donated PSAs Are Run

  • The amount of time donated to PSAs ranged from 9 seconds an hour during prime time, to 32 seconds an hour after midnight.
  • Just under half (46%) of all time donated to PSAs occurred between the hours of midnight and 6 a.m., across all stations in the study. On the broadcast stations, a greater proportion of donated PSA airtime occurred during the overnight hours (60%), compared to 38 percent for the cable stations, and 35 percent for the Spanish language channel.


Issues Covered in Donated PSAs

  • 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%).
  • Environmental issues accounted for 4% of all donated PSAs.

Viewer Follow Up

  • A large majority of all donated PSAs included some type of provision for viewers to follow up on information presented in the spot: for example, a Web address (75%) or a toll-free telephone number (38%). Eighty-five percent included one or the other.
  • 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.


Local vs. National PSAs

  • One in five donated PSAs (20%) specifically addressed a local issue, cause or event, while 80% were national in scope.


Paid PSAs

  • Instead of relying on donated airtime, some corporations, non-profits, and government agencies purchase airtime for public service messages. In addition to donated PSAs, the study found that there was an average of 10 seconds an hour devoted to paid PSAs.
  • Paid PSAs got better airtime than those relying on donated time: 27 percent ran after midnight (compared to 46 percent of donated spots); 19 percent ran during prime time (compared to 13 percent for donated spots).
  • A little more than a third (37%) of paid PSAs were sold at some type of discount – either a special nonprofit rate, or being part of a “match” in which sponsors purchased one spot and got another for free.

Advertising and other non-programming content on TV

  • Across all channels in the study, a little more than one out of every four minutes – or 27 percent of all airtime – was devoted to non-programming content (16:25 per hour, up from 15:35 in 2000). This includes 21% of airtime that is spent on advertising, and 4% that is spent on promos.
  • The amount of time dedicated to advertising increased from 11:45 per hour in 2000 to 12:25 in 2005 – a statistically significant increase of 40 seconds an hour.
  • The four major broadcast networks and their affiliates aired considerably more non-programming content per hour (18:47) than did the cable stations in the study (15:04).


The study examined a full week of television content on affiliates of ten major broadcast and cable networks: the four major broadcast networks; five basic cable channels that represent news, sports, music, children’s and general audience programming; and one Spanish language network. The networks in the study are: ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC, CNN, ESPN, MTV, Nickelodeon, TNT, and Univision. For each network, programming was sampled on local affiliates or cable providers in seven different markets across the country: Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Los Angeles, New York, and Seattle. A total of 1,680 hours of television content was collected and analyzed for the study.

Because television content varies across weeks and seasons, the study used a composite week of programming, collected from September 25 through December 3, 2005. To determine whether PSAs were donated or paid for, the study used letters, email, and telephone calls to stations, cable franchises, and sponsors. A total of 969 donated PSAs and 626 paid PSAs were identified and studied in depth. Most findings in the report concern donated PSAs.

The study was designed by the Kaiser Family Foundation in collaboration with Professor Walter Gantz of Indiana University. Implementation of the study was overseen by Nancy Schwartz of Indiana University. Analyses were run by James Angelini, then of Indiana University and currently of the University of Delaware. The report was written by Professor Gantz and Vicky Rideout of the Kaiser Family Foundation.

The Kaiser Family Foundation is a non-profit, private operating foundation dedicated to providing information and analysis on health care issues to policymakers, the media, the health care community and the general public. The Foundation is not associated with Kaiser Permanente or Kaiser Industries.