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Anheuser-Busch Cos. has pull-ed all beer advertising from MTV to avoid drawing fire for marketing to underage drinkers.

The move will have little financial impact on MTV Networks, however, since most of the ads are moving to sister network VH-1. But it is symbolic of the pressure being felt by all marketers of alcoholic beverages in recent months.

The actions of beer, wine and liquor marketers have been closely scrutinized in Washington in the wake of the distilled spirits industry's decision to reverse a longstanding ban on TV and radio advertising.

"There is a lot of focus right now on young people and the issue of underage drinking and advertising," said a spokeswoman for Anheuser-Busch. "We feel it's important that people understand our intentions and that they are not misrepresented. We do not target underage drinkers."

She added: "We have made a decision to move our beer advertising that has been on MTV to VH-1. VH-1 offers a better vehicle for our messages."

While MTV: Music Television draws a large number of teens in its overall audience, the target for VH-1: Video Hits One is 25-to-49-year-olds. Both networks have said they will not accept hard-liquor ads.


In addition to shifting ads between the networks, Anheuser-Busch will convert some time reserved for beer commercials to spots for its Sea World theme parks.

"Anheuser-Busch is a good client, and we are happy to accommodate them," said a spokeswoman for MTV Networks.

Anheuser-Busch was clearly spooked by the Federal Trade Commission's recent investigation of the airing of a Schlitz Malt Liquor commercial on MTV July 6 during an episode of "My So-Called Life." Airing a spot during a program targeted to teens has been characterized by MTV and Schlitz marketer Stroh Brewery Co. as a mistake.

Most of Anheuser-Busch's beer spots on MTV aired after 10 p.m. in Eastern and Pacific time zones, when the network said its programming is viewed mostly by those of legal drinking age.

Miller Brewing Co., also an MTV advertiser, said it will continue to buy time on the network. In fact, the absence of its archrival from MTV could give Miller a competitive advantage.

"We rely on MTV to make sure our media buys there meet the criteria of the Beer Institute's marketing code," said a Miller spokeswoman.

That code says beer commercials should not be placed in shows where most of the audience is composed of underage viewers.

Unfortunate placements can occur regardless of the hour. On Dec. 18, for example, a Miller spot ran during the 10 p.m. hour when MTV aired back-to-back episodes of its "Real World" documentary series.

One of the episodes focused entirely on the drinking and carousing of college youths during spring break. At one point, a young man faced the camera and proudly declared that he's actually under the legal drinking age.


Another issue that likely led Anheuser-Busch to pull its spots on MTV is one endemic to a number of cable TV networks-most spots are aired on a run of schedule, or ROS, basis, meaning they are not program-specific and can run anytime during the day.

While MTV sells lots of spots to air ROS, the network takes great care to make sure its beer advertising is run primarily late at night.

However, "I think that Stroh spot probably got misplaced . . . and that, no doubt, also got A-B nervous," said an ad sales executive at a competing cable network.

Anheuser-Busch had a relatively small presence on MTV, spending $1 million to $2 million annually from a cable budget of $34 million, brewery insiders said.

The marketer spends far more on ESPN and ESPN2. But some of its placements there seem questionable as well.

On Dec. 17, a Budweiser commercial ran during the 2 p.m. hour on ESPN2's telecast of "NBA Inside Stuff." The program airs first at noon Saturday on NBC and is designed to appeal to a teen audience; NBC does not run beer commercials during its broadcasts of the show.


TV industry executives said the Anheuser-Busch move confirms their concerns that controversy over the airing of liquor commercials on TV will ultimately affect ads for beer and wine.

"Many of us feared that this hard-liquor thing would end up bringing Washington's wrath down on the beer guys," one broadcast network executive said, "and it looks like that may be happening."

Contributing: Laura Petrecca

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