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Public service ads air late or not at all, report says

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Associated Press / January 25, 2008

WASHINGTON - Don't do drugs, don't smoke, and don't drink. Do get plenty of exercise, mentor a child, and give money to your local charity.

All good advice, all offered in typical television public service announcements. These ads can be effective, but a new study says there aren't very many of them. And those that do make it to television are often broadcast at odd hours when few people are watching.

"There continues to be very little time available for ads on public service, and nearly half of them are aired after midnight," said Vicky Rideout, a co-author of the study. "It's a really challenging environment for nonprofits to get their messages out."

The study, titled "Shouting to be Heard," was released yesterday by the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation at a forum attended by three of the five members of the Federal Communications Commission.

Public service announcements are prosocial messages that air for free.

Researchers watched a full week of television on affiliates of 10 of the nation's most popular cable and broadcast networks in seven different markets in late 2005.

Researchers determined the stations they reviewed aired 17 seconds of public service announcements per each hour of programming, or about 0.5 percent of all TV airtime on the channels.

Forty-six percent of the ads were aired between midnight and 6 a.m., the study said. If you consider broadcast stations alone, the total was 60 percent.

"Maybe insomniacs are well informed, but humans are not nocturnal animals," commissioner Jonathan Adelstein, a Democrat, said of the results.

The report updates a study released in 2002. Since then, time allotted to donated public service announcements increased from 7 seconds to 15 seconds per hour on cable networks, but there was no statistically significant change among broadcast channels.

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