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No local outcry at stations airing liquor ads

By Published on .

Despite a deafening roar of controversy in Washington over hard-liquor advertising on TV, markets where the ads are running report a notable silence.

In an Advertising Age survey of many of the 21 TV stations that have been broadcasting commercials for Seagram Americas' Crown Royal Canadian whiskey, most report the spots haven't drawn a single complaint.

"This community is very vocal when people disagree with something we've done," said Joseph Sugg, general manager of KMSS, a Fox affiliate in Shreveport, La., "and we haven't heard anything about these ads."

SIGNIFICANT NON-REACTION

The lack of reaction is significant since the Federal Communications Commission and other critics have expressed outrage over the distilled-spirits industry's recent decision to drop a voluntary ban on radio and TV advertising.

FCC Chairman Reed Hundt met briefly last week with Fred Meister, president of the Distilled Spirits Council of the U.S., although they did not resolve their significant differences over the issue.

The meeting followed the latest pointed exchange of letters between Mr. Hundt, who requested information on the council's members and whether their marketing efforts target children, and Discus, which pointed out yet again that distilled spirits deserve the same media access given to beer and wine marketers.

While Mr. Hundt grapples with the industry, Mr. Sugg of KMSS is grappling with his conscience over his station's decision to run the ads.

SEEKING DIRECTION

Saying he is "torn in my inner man," about the controversy, Mr. Sugg added, "I want clear direction from my industry and Washington. If hard-liquor ads are wrong, I want a good reason why they're wrong and different than beer and wine. Otherwise, don't make us feel guilty for taking these ads."

KMSS is part of Communications Corp., a group of five TV stations running the Seagram commercials. One executive close to Communications Corp., though, said the group is discussing whether to take additional hard-liquor ads because of the pressure from Mr. Hundt.

"They're nervous about the trouble they could have with license renewal, no matter how subtle," said the executive. "What they really wish is that the politicos would find some other issue to hang their hats on."

Indeed, executives at many of the stations surveyed said they thought even broadcasters who had taken the first wave of ads would have second thoughts about taking more.

Distilled-spirits marketers might have an easier time placing ads on local cable systems, where regulation is mainly left to local government and the FCC has no sway. Continental Cablevision systems in Michigan and Florida, for example, are expected to take hard-liquor ads.

At the national level, Black Entertainment Television remains the only network that has publicly said it will accept hard-liquor ads.

Michael H. Jordan, chairman-CEO of CBS owner Westinghouse Electric Corp., told Advertising Age last week that though he had not discussed the issue with CBS executives, the broadcasting of hard-liquor ads in a responsible manner "is not something I'm opposed to, necessarily."

Mr. Jordan's remarks are significant because after Westinghouse spins off its industrial divisions he will become CEO of its remaining broadcasting and cable properties. And, at first glance, CBS, with its demographically older audience, would seen an ideal medium for a distiller.

"POLITICAL TIME BOMB"

But a senior CBS executive said that if asked, network officials will tell Mr. Jordan that they are strongly opposed to broadcasting hard-liquor ads during any daypart, "primarily because the issue is a political time bomb."

The Ad Age station survey found that Seagram has thus far bought time mainly in sports and prime time. On Fox outlets, the spots have run mostly on NFL games, with some World Series buys.

One prime-time buy, on CBS affiliate KENS in San Antonio, was during "Cosby," which airs at 7 p.m. in that market. The station has had no complaints about airing any of the spots.

On WTVK, a UPN affiliate in Fort Myers/Naples, Fla., the commercials have aired during Southeastern Conference college football games. The station says it hasn't gotten any complaints, although WBBH, another station in the market airing the ads, said it has received "one or two complaints, that's all."

Copyright November 1996, Crain Communications Inc.

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