Liquor move could change whole game

Feb 4, 2002  •  Post A Comment

NBC’s maverick decision to air hard-liquor ads is triggering discussion on Capitol Hill of a highly charged idea: imposing curbs on all televised alcohol ads, including beer and wine spots.
The notion of restricting beer and wine ads, such as banning them from certain programs that are popular with teens, underscores how NBC’s move has stirred up a hornet’s nest in Washington, drawing attention to matters long off the radar screen.
The idea-one of several being batted around in response to the Peacock Network’s policy change-is strongly opposed by brewers and wineries, which insist their products should not be linked with hard liquor.
When NBC announced its decision in December, a few congressmen called on the network to rescind it-and threatened legislation and hearings if it didn’t.
Now one of those lawmakers-Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard, D-Calif.-appears willing to back off a bit if voluntary guidelines are adopted for all alcohol ads on TV.
All liquor ads targeted
Meanwhile, Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va., another leading critic of NBC, may be receptive to the idea as well.
“Certainly Mr. Wolf and other legislators would be open to the bigger picture of alcohol advertising and how it targets young people,” spokeswoman Elyse Bauer said.
Sources said both Rep. Wolf and Rep. Roybal-Allard want any congressional hearings on the issue to address all forms of TV liquor ads-not just spirits.
Fueling discussion about placing curbs on televised alcohol spots is the fact that the lawmakers have run into roadblocks trying to draft legislation that forces NBC to stop airing hard-liquor ads.
They’ve discovered, for example, that they might run afoul of the Constitution if they try to restrict the ads of one form of alcohol but not others.
Garnering support for legislation could be another challenge, given that NBC lobbied lawmakers extensively before announcing its ad plans.
Legislation considered
Nevertheless, the lawmakers have not ruled out pursuing legislation.
Under the approach Rep. Roybal-Allard is exploring, the lawmakers would stop urging NBC to rescind its decision if the network tightens the voluntary guidelines it adopted for the spots, which address when the ads can air and that content is permissible.
Also, NBC and other TV networks would be asked to apply the updated guidelines to all forms of alcohol ads.
That’s certain to draw the ire of the beer and wine industries, which maintain their ads are already subject to scrutiny by the Federal Trade Commission and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.
The idea could leave broadcasters in a bit of a quandary: They would have a green light from Washington to air hard-liquor ads, albeit with ample restrictions, but they would face curbs on the larger and more lucrative beer and wine ad market.