Networks Join Forces in Ads to Fight Their Cable Rivals


The Big Three TV networks are about to jointly advertise for more advertising.

Next week, the embattled networks--NBC, ABC and CBS--will together begin a newspaper and trade magazine ad campaign aimed at convincing advertisers not to abandon them for cable or syndicated television.

"Laura Palmer Isn't Dead," blares a headline on one ad. It goes on to explain that while that is just a theory, it is network television that made Laura Palmer of "Twin Peaks" a household name. The headline on another ad suggests that the law firm on "L.A. Law" is about to dissolve. The small print admits that won't happen--but thanks to network television, people are talking about the show.

"This has never been done before," said Peter Chrisanthopoulos, president of the 6-month-old Network Television Assn., which is funding the campaign for an undisclosed sum. "We're reinforcing the identity and value of network television," he said in a statement.

Behind all this is the continuing erosion of the number of network TV viewers and ad revenues to competitors such as Fox Broadcasting Co. and Turner Broadcasting System Inc. The networks have lost at least 20% of their prime-time audience to cable, TV Guide estimates. And millions of dollars that used to annually go to network advertising are now being diverted to cable. This has banded the Big Three networks together. Next year, they are even expected to jointly advertise on TV.

Advertising industry executives, however, seem generally unimpressed with the effort.

"This won't affect how we buy or what we buy," said Pam Warren, director of media resources at the Los Angeles ad agency Rubin Postaer & Associates, which creates and places ads for American Honda. The campaign is not going to alter the agency's decision to increasingly buy cable, she said. In 1990, the agency's cable TV ad budget jumped to 6% of all TV advertising dollars, compared to about 2% in 1989, she said.

Also unimpressed was Steve Hayman, general manager of the Los Angeles office of Foote, Cone & Belding, which creates ads for Mazda. "My gut feeling is consumers watch programs, they don't watch networks. I have a little trouble seeing how advertising will change that."

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