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Liquor ads in mix on most shows

Jan 7, 2002  •  Post A Comment

NBC’s restrictions on liquor advertising turn out to be not so restrictive.
The network will consider running liquor ads only during programs for which at least 85 percent of viewers are 21 or older. In one respect, that’s a relatively low bar: Virtually all NBC prime-time shows qualify.
In issuing its plan last month to allow liquor ads, General Electric Co.’s NBC tried to be sensitive to lawmakers’ and public-interest groups’ concerns over distilled-spirits marketing to youths. Broadcast networks have had a long-standing voluntary ban on liquor ads.
All current NBC prime-time shows except one qualify under the 85 percent rule. The exception: the “NBC Saturday Night Movie.”
If rivals were to follow NBC’s standard, numerous network shows would qualify for spirits spots. A seven-network average of fourth-quarter 2001 prime-time programs indicated 86.4 percent of viewers were 21 or older, according to Nielsen Media Research.
NBC, in a break with industry practice, last month accepted hard-liquor advertising from Diageo’s Guinness-UDV North America for Smirnoff vodka. No other broadcast networks currently accept liquor ads, though many ad-watchers expect a flood of the ads if NBC withstands criticism from politicians and alcohol foes.
But if NBC’s 85 percent rule were to become the broadcast standard, not all nets would make the cut. “By setting at 85 percent, you are eliminating UPN, The WB and Fox,” said Lyle Schwartz, senior VP and director of media research for WPP Group’s Media Edge, New York, referring to the younger-skewing networks owned by Viacom, AOL Time Warner and News Corp., respectively. “It doesn’t exclude a whole lot of shows on NBC.”
If liquor marketers were to follow the model set by beer competitors, prime-time TV might not be the primary target; sports programming would be a strong consideration. An average of all network sports shows in 2001 showed 85.3 percent of viewers were at least 21.
Why did NBC pick 85 percent?
“To a certain extent it was arbitrary,” said Alan Wurtzel, president of NBC research and media development, who also is in charge of the network’s standards and practices. “We did note that magazines used an 80 percent criteria [for readership age 21 and older] with tobacco companies. We wanted to be a bit more stringent than that.”
NBC insisted on another qualification: time of day. Programs that air after 9 p.m. ET and PT-8 p.m. Central and Mountain-and that meet the 85 percent standard are open to spirits sellers. For shows before that hour that meet the 85 percent rule, NBC will review proposed TV buys on a case-by-case basis.
Beer marketers do advertise before 9 p.m. because many TV sports programs-especially National Football League and college football games-air weekend afternoons. Under NBC’s standards, however, liquor marketers would theoretically be eliminated from many sports broadcasts.
Last year’s Super Bowl-a bastion of beer ads-wouldn’t have qualified for spirits spots under NBC’s restrictions: Only 80.6 percent of its audience was 21-plus.
Some other major sporting events also wouldn’t make the cut for spirits: The Stanley Cup Finals on Walt Disney Co.’s ABC averaged an 82.9 percent and the NBA Finals on NBC posted an 81.0 percent. But baseball’s World Series on News Corp.’s Fox at 89.5 percent would qualify, as would ABC’s “Monday Night Football” at 89.3 percent.
Other big-event non-sports programs would have mixed results for potential liquor ads. The Academy Awards on ABC last year had an 88.9 percent level of 21-plus viewers. However, CBS’s Grammy Awards had only 76.2 percent.
Hillary Chura contributed to this report.