• CNN Debuts Liquor Ads
  • March 20, 2005
  • Law Firm: Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, LLP - Los Angeles Office
  • CNN is to become the first national cable television news network to accept liquor commercials, by airing an ad for Grey Goose Vodka.

    The ad was scheduled to appear last week during "News Night With Aaron Brown," but it did not run. The policy change also affects a CNN sibling, CNN Headline News, although that network has no liquor ads scheduled at the moment. In amending its policy on liquor advertising, CNN joins a growing list of national cable channels that air such spots. The others feature entertainment, financial, or sports programming, and include BET, Bloomberg, Bravo, E!, FX, Fox Sports, Golf Channel, Spike TV, Sci-Fi Channel, Style, USA, and VH1.

    As with the other cable networks, the CNN guidelines for liquor commercials will be stricter than those for many other ad categories. For instance, the spots will run only after 9 p.m. and must include a message that promotes drinking responsibly.

    Critics such as the American Medical Association and the Center for Science in the Public Interest have long argued that television ads are more accessible to children and teenagers. While the national broadcast networks -- ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC -- adhere to their decades-old practice of declining to air liquor spots, more than two dozen national cable networks, hundreds of local cable systems, and over 600 local broadcast stations view such spots as a welcome source of revenue. Another barrier against liquor marketing recently came down when NASCAR lifted a ban on sponsorships of cars by distilled-spirits marketers.

    The most recent effort by a broadcast TV network to carry spots for distilled spirits came in December 2001 when NBC ran a series of commercials sponsored by Smirnoff Vodka that promoted designating a driver before going out to drink. Those spots were to be followed in April 2002 by product-focused commercials for Smirnoff. But a month before that, NBC, citing an outcry from critics, ended the effort. Since then, no broadcast network has run a liquor commercial. Cable news channels Fox News Channel, CNBC, and MSNBC do not accept liquor commercials and apparently have no immediate plans to change their policies.

    Significance: The shift at CNN and Headline News is a sign that media companies are rethinking old policies used to judge advertising acceptability, especially as competition increases from additional cable and digital cable channels. In particular, the fight for ad revenue and ratings among the cable news networks has become increasingly heated since Fox News Channel pulled ahead of CNN in ratings.