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Revenue from television liquor ads proves tempting

Rival TV networks are letting NBC take the public heat for being the first to broadcast liquor ads. But at least one is quietly exploring the idea.

CBS, which said when NBC announced its deal with spirits marketer Diageo that it was not interested in liquor ads, is having "high-level" discussions with Diageo, says someone close to both sides who is familiar with the talks.

CBS says nothing has changed. "We have no plans to accept liquor advertising on CBS," spokesman Dana McClintock says.

But despite the controversy about liquor ads, the lure is strong. Broadcasters were hit by a 9.8% drop in ad revenue in 2001.

"Everyone's going to let NBC take the flak," says Jack Myers, editor of the media industry newsletter, The Jack Myers Report. "Then, if there's any meaningful business that comes NBC's way without any backlash, they'll quietly join in. If it looks like there's enough money, money talks. Nobody walks."

Meanwhile, Jack Daniels marketers are trying to join Diageo on NBC as early as May. And Allied-Domecq is looking. Brown-Forman's Jack Daniels and Allied Domecq's Kahlua have bought ads on local stations for several years.

"We're hopeful NBC will continue to accept ads," says Phil Lynch, head of corporate communications for Brown-Forman.

But NBC, which did not return calls, might be uneasy about taking new liquor clients. The Diageo deal prompted protests from groups such as the American Medical Association. And a bipartisan group of 13 House members wrote to NBC, saying liquor ads "will have a devastating impact" on youth, and warning Congress might "step in."

The lack of ads until now has been voluntary on the part of the liquor industry and TV networks.

NBC and Diageo have tried to defuse the backlash by only running responsible drinking ads with the Smirnoff brand name. No date's been set for airing product ads.

"We are taking the industry lead on social responsibility," says Gary Galanis of Diageo's UDV-Guinness North America unit. "We're working out our creative message in the most socially responsible way."

The magazine industry, which has profited from the TV ad ban, says its niche audiences will still attract spirits marketers. "We don't believe it's going to hurt print," says Nina Link, president of the Magazine Publishers of America.


Theresa Howard, USA TODAY. March 13, 2002

Copyright © 2002 USA TODAY. All rights reserved.