Nielsen Reports Continued Strong PSA Results in 2023

As we all know, television is changing. Over the last five years, audiences and viewership have shifted. Nonprofit organizations and advertisers may wonder how Public Service Announcements are faring amidst streaming television, writers’ and actors’ strikes, and a reversion to pre-pandemic viewing behavior.


Broadcast television has been donating free ad time to help nonprofit organizations build awareness for their causes for more than 70 years. Over the last five, Nielsen, the leader in viewer data collection, has found that broadcast cable has lost much of its viewer time to streaming and other “cord-free” options.


All of this might sound like cause for alarm for nonprofits hoping to share their PSA messages, but here at Connect360, our data tells a more nuanced story. We’re successfully swimming against the tide to bring PSAs to audiences. Here’s a closer look at how the currents are shifting.


Has Broadcast TV’s Commitment to Running PSAs Changed?

Stations and networks remain committed to airing PSAs. Over the past five years, Nielsen found that all TV PSAs (excluding those distributed by the Ad Council) surged significantly, with 28% more airings in 2023 compared to 2019. That growth settled down in 2023, remaining level for the first time in half a decade. Over the same time-span, Connect360-distributed PSAs grew by 59%.

Nielsen reported that the average number of airings increased by just 1% in 2023. During the same year, the number of PSAs in distribution increased by 10%. With more PSAs competing for the same amount of available free airtime, the average number of airings per PSA decreased.


At Connect360, our clients were able to fight the tide. We helped them increase their airings to offset the decrease in average impressions that Nielsen says each airing is getting. Connect360-distributed PSAs received 2.5 million airings. In fact, one in every five (non-Ad Council) PSA airings Nielsen detected during the year came from us. These airings generated 11.6 billion Nielsen impressions.


Were Donated TV PSAs Effective in 2023?

Impressions are a key metric for measuring effectiveness, because the ultimate goal of PSA distribution is to get your PSA in front of as many people as possible. (Impressions are the number of people who watched a PSA.) Airings are merely the delivery system.


Nielsen does not share PSA impression data with the public, but data from Connect360 distributions gives us a peek behind the curtain. The chart below shows the number of broadcast and cable impressions by source. For context, the average airing in 2023 was viewed by about 4,700 people.

As the chart above shows, impressions for Connect360-distributed PSAs are fairly evenly distributed across four major outlet types. Regional Cable Networks came in first at 30%. These tend to be sports-oriented channels. Next at 26% came Digital Stations, which are broadcast stations that play both over the air and on cable television. Local Broadcast Stations made up 25%, and National Cable Networks like Fox News and CNN delivered 18% of impressions.


National TV Networks make up the remaining 1%. Based on these trends, nonprofits are likely to achieve the best results when they distribute PSAs across as many outlets as possible. Careful distribution planning and campaign management are essential to succeed.


How Have PSA Impressions Changed

Over the last five years, Connect360-distributed PSAs increased by 59%. Total impressions only increased by 21%. Although the average airing received 24% fewer impressions in 2023 than in 2019, the decrease in impressions per airing is offset by the large surge in overall airings. Each airing got fewer impressions, but the total number of impressions for a PSA campaign still rose 21% over the last five years, as the graph below illustrates.

These changes are easy to understand when you recognize that television audiences are declining overall. They’re spending less time watching broadcast and cable, and more time streaming. In general, PSA audience behavior follows TV audience currents. Connect360 campaigns have done so well in airings growth that we were able to overcome the current and offset the decline in average impressions per airing.


Is there Seasonality in PSA Airings?

By mapping Nielsen data over the last decade, we were able to build a picture of how many airings Nielsen detected each month for all PSAs it tracked. The results are eye opening.


In the chart below, green indicates months with above average airings, pink is below average, and white is average. Walking through the year, you can see February tends to fall below average. The spring and summer tend to be strong with average airings, followed by a return to below average in the fall.

This data reveals something interesting about the potential impact elections may have on PSA airings. Or perhaps the potential lack of impact.


Airings are determined based on the ad time stations feel they can donate to nonprofit organizations. In 2020, which was the most highly contested presidential election in history with the most money ever spent on political advertising, September through November airings were average or below average. No surprise there.


However, airings have remained below average during those months in every year since 2020. Even non-election years see a dip in airings during the last three months of the year. Therefore, the impact of the election on PSAs may not be as extreme as some might assume.


Even so, in planning for the 2024 election season, we are advising clients to play it safe and get their campaigns out as early as possible this year. Ideally, your PSA will be established in station usage during the spring, but no later than June or July. That way they will have the best chance to capture the most airings before the wave of the heavy political ad budgets.


When Do TV PSAs Reach Audiences?

Many people believe TV PSAs are only watched by insomniacs in the middle of the night. The data tells a different story. PSAs air at all times during the day and in all Nielsen dayparts. Looking at Connect360’s 2.5 million airings, it is easy to see that though Late Night distribution captures 27% of airings, this is closely followed by Daytime at 23%, and Early Morning at 22%. Unsurprisingly, PSAs are least likely to be shown during Prime Time, Early Fringe, and Late Evenings.

Are TV PSAs Still a Strong Awareness Tool?

Even with all the changes going on in the world of Television, PSAs are still a remarkable awareness and promotional tool. In 2023, for example, a typical Connect360 PSA distribution project generated over $5 million in donated advertising time. Several projects received $20-40 million in in-kind donations. That makes the return on investment close to $200 for every dollar spent getting the PSA to stations, promoting its use, and measuring its results.


Free advertising donated by television stations to organizations that have PSAs to air is still a wonderful opportunity that all nonprofits should seize.


Faced with broadcast television’s long history of helping nonprofits, streaming outlets may decide it’s time for them to do the same. Make sure your nonprofit is ready. As I like to say, “nothing is better than free advertising.”


PSA distribution by Connect360 delivers encouraging results despite the current shift in TV viewing audiences. Think of us as an outboard motor for your PSA campaign. We’ll help you travel against the tide to get your message in front of TV audiences both before or after election day. Contact us today.




© 2024 Connect360 Multimedia


About The Author

Steven Edelman

Steve Edelman is a Partner and President of Connect360. He is a leading expert on the measurement, valuation, and financial reporting of Public Service Announcements by not-for-profit organizations.

About Connect 360

Connect360 is a leading media placement agency driving measurable results for some of Charity Navigator’s highest-ranked nonprofits, well-known associations, government agencies and public relations/marketing firms.

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