Attorneys General of 21 States Lash Out at Bud.tv
Anheuser-Busch's Status as 'Media Owner' Cited as a
By Jeremy Mullman and Ira
February 19, 2007
CHICAGO (AdAge.com) -- Dealing a blow to the $40
million experiment hailed as ushering in a new era for
marketer-generated media, the attorneys general of 21
states are attacking
The launch of Bud.tv is an attempt by a major
alcoholic beverage marketer to become a major online
media company. The branded-entertainment portal
features TV-like content including original shows with
Hollywood stars. But state attorneys general have now
expressed concerns about a beer company that 'controls
both the medium and the message' of such
Sharply worded letter
The irony is that the stance taken in a sharply worded
letter to the brewer directly contradicts that of many
critics -- including one at this publication -- who
have described A-B's heavy-handed attempts to block
underage users as diminishing Bud.tv's effectiveness.
As so often seems to be the case today, the marketer
finds itself trapped between the easy-access advocates
among internet-savvy consumers and the lawyers and
politicos who often seem to have advertisers in their
The missive could be read as a warning to any marketer
delivering its own content. While it glosses over the
fact that you can't actually buy beer on the A-B site,
it stresses in several places that the states'
concerns are heightened precisely because the marketer
"controls the medium and the message." It also refers
to such ventures as moving into "unknown and
'A higher responsibility'
"We feel strongly that since you are creating the
programming and controlling the internet-based
network, not just advertising on it, you have a higher
responsibility to ensure that youth are not exposed to
the marketing on your site," the letter to A-B reads.
"We fail to see how your use of age verification on
the Bud.tv site is a genuine attempt to keep youth
from accessing the site's content."
Bud.tv launched earlier this month with a mix of
trailers for a diverse list of reality, comedy and
even drama programs. Access to the site is restricted
to users who can provide the name, birth date and zip
code of a legal drinker (ideally, themselves), which
goes further than the honor systems most alcohol sites
The letter said A-B can do more to keep out youth,
noting that its vendor has ways the brewer isn't using
of confirming whether Bud.tv registrants are who they
say they are. Those include follow-up phone calls or
direct mailings and software that checks to make sure
the information on a single ID can't be used for
multiple users' registrations.
The attorneys general found further fault with Bud.tv
functions that allow users to download programs to
their iPods and sent via e-mail to their friends. "If
the programming on your site can be downloaded and
shared freely ... what's the purpose of engaging any
age verification at all?"
In a lengthy statement, A-B VP-Consumer Affairs
Francine Katz described A-B's actions to keep underage
users from watching Bud.tv as "extraordinary steps,"
and urged parents to monitor their children's internet
Referring to a review of the site in last week's Ad
Age, "Bud.tv's Walled Beer Garden," Ms. Katz said:
"Ironically, Ad Age and other media sources have
criticized our independent age-verification process as
discouraging adult viewers from visiting Bud.tv.
Despite the fact that this software has turned away
tens of thousands of visitors, we have continued to
use it to show that we're serious about wanting to
prevent illegal underage drinking."
A-B is reportedly spending $40 million on Bud.tv this
year, and one of its top executives was recently
quoted saying the site is aiming for an audience of 2
million to 3 million 21- to 34-year-olds a month by
the end of its first year. It's a combination of
investment and expectation that figures to make the
inherent tension between avoiding marketing to youth
and fostering the sort of easy sharing that can lead
to effective viral marketing all the more pronounced.
Beer Institute marketing code
The Beer Institute's marketing code requires that its
members only market to audiences consisting of at
least 70% legal drinkers. That's a hard enough line to
walk in established media, where the choice of a
magazine-cover subject can change whether an issue
meets the standard or not. It's even more difficult in
the volatile and less-measured world of online video.
A-B has had at least two viral videos viewed more than
1 million times on YouTube: its animated "Crowntown"
sketches for Budweiser Select and a fake "Beer Ape" ad
for Rolling Rock. In each case, the brewer produced
numbers that showed it met the Beer Institute's 70%
It hasn't released any numbers about Bud.tv yet, which
is apparently making the state law-enforcement
officials nervous. "This is a serious concern for us,"
the letter said. "With Bud.tv, Anheuser-Busch is
venturing into unknown and, more importantly,
unmeasured territory." The letter was signed by the
attorneys general from Alaska, Arizona, Connecticut,
Delaware, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine,
Maryland, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, North
Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee,
Vermont, West Virginia and Wyoming. The top legal
officers of the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico
Ability to sue
Though the letter gives no indication of what they
will do if their concerns are not met, the attorneys
general have the ability to sue and have done so in
the past. It was a suit brought by the states'
attorneys that resulted in the landmark Master
Settlement Agreement with Big Tobacco.
"This letter sets a solid standard," said David
Jernigan, executive director of Georgetown
University's Center for Alcohol Marketing and Youth.
"It's terrific A-B went as far as they did, but the
letter makes it clear that the technology they're
using lets them go even further."
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