Viacom and Fox Seek Share of Court-Mandated Anti-Smoking Spots

Viacom and Fox Broadcasting are seeking to be part of tobacco companies’ court-mandated plans for anti-smoking ads, arguing that the rollout on the three traditional broadcast networks won’t reach the intended audiences of young people and African-Americans.

A federal judge is considering a consent order in which the anti-smoking spots will be aired on ABC, CBS and NBC as part of a 2006 order that tobacco companies had to air educational messages on the dangers of tobacco to make up for advertising that concealed its dangers.

Viacom’s targeted networks may provide a more effective means than any of CBS, ABC, or NBC, for redressing [tobacco companies’] conduct among young people, including Black young people — the demographics that were targeted by Defendants in their misleading advertising,” Viacom argued in a brief filed in U.S. District Court in Washington this week.

Viacom contends that it features four of the five networks with the highest concentration of 18-34 year old viewers — MTV, MTV2, VH1 and Comedy Central — while BET is the leading network for African-American audiences.

Fox, meanwhile, points out that it enjoys similar wide reach of the three broadcast networks — with rights to this year’s Super Bowl — and at the same time has thrived in drawing younger demographics.

“Fox enjoys particular popularity among younger audiences, having been the preferred network among teenagers 12-17 and men 18-34 for 12 consecutive years. It was also the top rated network for 11 of the past 12 seasons among adults under the age of 35,” the network said in a brief filed on Jan. 21.

Tobacco advertising has been banned on TV since 1971. As part of a settlement of long-time litigation over the marketing of cigarettes, tobacco companies will air anti-smoking spots and broadcast them in primetime, with the aim of reaching populations most adversely affected by smoking dangers, particularly youth. But Viacom and Fox argue that the media landscape has changed considerably, and they should be part of an ad campaign that is expected to cost tobacco firms in the tens of millions of dollars.

The big three tobacco makers — Philip Morris, R.J. Reynolds and Lorillard — contend that Viacom’s response came too late.

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