The chairman of the House panel planning a hearing on TV liquor ads said he's holding off to permit negotiations between the parties, even though industry players said they knew of no such negotiations and suggested they had nothing to negotiate.
Also, Rep. Joe Kennedy (D., Mass.), a high-profile critic of liquor advertising, said he will put off taking another stab at introducing legislation to curb alcohol ads.
Rep. Billy Tauzin (R., La.), formally installed as chairman of the House Commerce Committee's Subcommittee on Telecommunications, Trade & Consumer Protection, told Advertising Age he had decided to postpone the hearing in the hopes of getting the issue settled.
"I want to encourage the parties to come together," he said. "I don't want a hearing to interfere" with the negotiations. Rep. Tauzin said that if he felt negotiations weren't taking place, then he would immediately call for a hearing.
Officials from the Distilled Spirits Council of the U.S., Beer Institute, National Association of Broadcasters and Association of National Advertisers said they knew of no current negotiations.
Still going ahead with its own similar hearing is the Senate Commerce Committee's communications subcommittee. That hearing is scheduled for Feb. 11.
PITOFSKY MAY TESTIFY
Committee and liquor industry spokesmen say those likely to testify include Federal Trade Commission Chairman Robert Pitofsky, DISCUS President-CEO Fred Meister, Beer Institute President Ray McGrath and an NAB executive, along with representatives from Mothers Against Drunk Driving.
Still uncertain is whether Seagram Co., the first distilled spirits marketer to get back into TV advertising, will offer its own testimony. A company spokesman said Seagram hasn't yet been invited to testify.
Senate subcommittee Chairman Conrad Burns (R., Mont.), like Rep. Tauzin, has indicated he thinks legislation is unlikely to come out of the hearing and that he would prefer some sort of industry response over government action.
While the committees look into liquor advertising on TV, Rep. Kennedy is taking a new tack in his own fight against liquor ads.
STUDY ON ADS' EFFECTS
Instead of again introducing legislation to subject ads to some of the same curbs the Food & Drug Administration requires of tobacco ads, or to try to ban liquor TV ads, as he did last year, Rep. Kennedy now wants to get the National Institutes of Health's alcohol treatment unit to first do a detailed study on the effect of alcoholic beverage advertising on those below legal drinking age.
Advertising and alcoholic beverage industry officials, while pleased that Rep. Kennedy won't again be offering legislation to block advertising, claimed he was just recognizing the reality that it was unlikely to pass. Some also questioned the need for a study.
"Generally, the research on this issue is fairly clear. It is not consistent with what Congressman Kennedy would like it to be," said Jeff Becker, VP-alcohol issues for the Beer Institute.