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Edwards' Exit Removes DTC Critic - Broadcasting & Cable

Edwards' Exit Removes DTC Critic

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One byproduct of the defeat of the John Kerry/John Edwards presidential ticket is that it removes one of the Senate's most vocal critics of direct-to-consumer prescription drug ads on TV.

Those ads accounts for about 5%, or $1.5 billion, of television advertising dollars.

Edwards, who leaves the Senate in January, introduced two bills in 2003 that would have curtailed or effectively killed such ads and the issue was mentioned by name during the debates as a target of a Kerry/Edwards administration.

But that doesn't mean the DTC topic is going away says financial analyst Brian Wieser of top 10 media buyer Magna Global. That was one of several observations in a post-election look at the effect of a second Bush term on various ad related issues.

Wieser plans to advise advertisers to expect the Congress to try to "do something"  about the price of prescription drugs, which could make some attack on DTC a nonpartisan one. If that happens, he says, it will likely mean a shift of DTC budgets to other media rather than a massive decline in the category--estimated at over $1 billion--though that is cold comfort to broadcasters.

"There are always risks to pharmaceutical advertising and restrictions are being considered by various entities in Washington," Wieser told B&C. "Although John Edwards has been outspoken on the topic, a lot of the sentiment is driven by populism more than partisanship. Although restrictions would have been more likely under Kerry/Edwards, they could also happen under a second term with Bush-Cheney."

Adonis Hoffman of the American Association of Advertising Agencies agrees that the threat is reduced, but not gone. He points to Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), a proponent of reimporting drugs from Canada and curtailing DTC ads as a way to cut drug prices to seniors. "Look for her to introduce legislation in the next Congress,"Ado he says.

Wieser sees a lowered threat level of obesity-related advertising regs, including giving the FDA oversight over fast food advertising, both of which were more likely under a Democratic administration. But he warns that there could be a bipartisan effort given the populist pressures.

Contributing to that is the Surgeon General's warning that obesity is fast becoming the nation's number one health list.

Wieser says local media are likely to be most affected by additional ownership dereg. If the FCC approves newspaper-broadcast crossownership or new "triopoly" rules for TV, it could result in higher ad prices, he says, but could also make the process of delivering those ads to stations more efficient--i.e. less expensive.

Wieser warns that any move to a la carte cable programming would narrow the distribution base of some networks and make them less attractive to advertisers, but he also suggests that a la carte may prove the "unintended consequence" of the crackdown on indecency and the desire to give consumers more control over channel lineups.

Wieser says that the biggest overarching issue for advertisers remains "what happens to the economy as a whole and what drives consumer spending. These factors are going to have much broader implcations on marketing budgets and ultimately on avertising as a whole," he says.

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