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In the uproar over the record National Football League rights fees being paid by the broadcast networks, there's been scant attention given to what we believe will be some of the surprise winners in this deal: the competing media.

Even as primetime broadcast network ratings-and NFL ratings, too, for that matter-have declined, network TV has still remained the easy one-stop solution to many big advertisers' needs. Its reach, though slipping, can still deliver key demographics in such boxcar quantities and with enough immediacy that it just didn't pay for many advertisers to do a lot of shopping around.

Until now, that is.

The $18 billion in rights fees the networks are committed to pay the NFL over the next eight seasons may well turn NFL advertising time into a budget item that becomes a burden so real marketers start seriously looking for alternatives to reach men age 18 to 34.

It's just like when oil prices jump: Suddenly people are willing to cut their thermostat, drive their cars less and even begin thinking about alternate energy sources.

In the case of TV, the alternatives include print, cable, syndication, the Internet and other creative options. Even worse for the broadcast networks, this comes at a time when top media departments are all testing computerized optimizers that allow analysis and comparison of complex national ad buys.

Optimizers could now play an even bigger role than expected because of the NFL deals. Sellers of cable and syndication ad time already are touting reach and daypart alternatives in attaining ad buying goals, and these pitches surely will intensify.

So the recent NFL network rights winners may not be the ultimate winners in this contest; that prize may well go to the advertisers and media that optimize on the opportunity the networks have inadvertently granted them.

Blame game

Tobacco industry executives, trying to trade marketing and advertising privileges and billions of dollars in cash penalties in exchange for a future free of liability suits, face a new complication. It is the disclosure of dozens of previously confidential R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. documents that show, at the very least, that marketing officials at Reynolds for 20 years or more were keenly concerned about how their brands were selling to youths as young as 14.

The industry's critics will now contend the documents show Reynolds also knowingly targeted sales and marketing efforts to teens too young to legally buy its product. Reynolds claimed the documents merely "reflect the social attitudes of the times in which they were created" and denied targeting young people.

Tobacco marketers are now reaping what they have sowed. For decades they winked at teen smoking on the assumption that no one cared. In Reynolds' case, Joe Camel was simply the final folly. Now their enemies will use the documents to argue that an already reluctant Congress should deny the industry its cherished goal-protection from future liability lawsuits-or demand further bans on ads and marketing.

While the tobacco industry's future dangles in this new blame game, the most attentive and thoughtful watchers of this drama should be alcoholic beverage marketers, whose age-restricted products have long tempted teenagers. How well could their files withstand this kind of scrutiny?

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