Viacom Inc. faces a possible boycott of its advertisers, and chairman Sumner Redstone a lot of phone calls, as part of a protest from a coalition of Democratic youth groups like Compare, Decide Vote and The Youth Project and not-so-youthful groups like People for the American Way and the American Progress Action Fund.
The Let Us Decide Coalition says that it had a $115,000 buy booked on Comedy Central for the first ad in a planned $750,000 combined local and national cable and broadcast campaign, only to have it rejected by Viacom Oct. 1, citing its standing policy against issue advertising.
According to a spokeswoman, Viacom does not accept advocacy or issue ads, though, with the exception of MTV, it does accept political ads from candidates, campaigns or parties on its cable networks.
The ads ask young voters to compare policies of the two candidates--like minimum wage--and then decide who to vote for, with the current administration clearly suffering in the comparison.
The coalition has a couple of problems with the decision. First there is the principle of the thing, which they say is Viacom "banning legitimate political advertising to young people on its networks." They argue that Viacom, through Comedy Central, VH1, BET and various MTV's, has a virtual monopoly on the youth audience that carries with it a civic responsibility to air the ads.
MTV spokeswoman Jeanine Smartt says suggesting that Viacom is squelching speech is "not a fair characterization since on all of our channels we speak directly to our audience about issues." She points out that the company turns down issue ads on both sides "all the time."
The coalition is also concerned about the money. Compare, Decide, Vote Director Lisa Seitz Gruwell says it is more expensive to reproduce that $115,000 network buy having to go market-to-market as they have had to do with the ad campaign, with the first of three ads launching Monday night.
The group plans to urge an audience ad boycott, take out ads in college newspapers, send signed online petitions to Viacom executives and place "hundreds of calls daily" to Redstone's office.
Seitz says the coalition alerted Redstone's office to expect the calls and that Viacom responded that it "welcomed the input."
Viacom caught some heat for refusing to run a moveon.org ad in the Super Bowl that was critical of Bush economic policy, also citing its policy against issue ads.