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Crown Royal Liquor Ads Coming to Cable Networks

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LOS ANGELES-Diageo is boosting its efforts to circumvent the broadcast TV networks' refusal to air liquor ads with a campaign for its Crown Royal Canadian Whiskey that is set to break on national cable channels in October.

Among the cable nets are Bravo, Outdoor Life Network, Court TV, Oxygen, the USA Network and TNN, which is the first MTV Network to accept advertising for distilled spirits. Grey Global Group's MediaCom, New York, is Diageo's media agency. Sibling shop Grey Worldwide, New York, handles creative.

Spending on the Crown Royal effort was undisclosed, but sources estimated it at $10 million. That would be a significant increase in Diageo's already escalating presence in the medium. The advertiser spent only $1 million on cable TV in 2001, according to CMR, but $5 million in the first six months of this year alone.

Earlier this year, Diageo discussed plans to build its own "network" of cable channels and local TV stations valued at around $200 million, after NBC, under pressure from government regulators and activists, bowed out in March of a much-hyped deal for the network to promote the company's brands. (Liquor makers overturned their half-century voluntary ban on TV advertising in 1996.)

It's not clear whether Washington could or would step in as liquor ads spread on cable, because the law regards broadcast airwaves as publicly owned "commons," as opposed to privately financed cable systems that need answer only to their self-selecting customers.

"[The liquor companies'] agenda is to get on the air, so they are looking for [cable] networks that are growing and not necessarily getting the attention of mainstream advertisers," said Bruce Cohen, svp, group director of Bcom3's Mediavest.

The advertiser also has made cable ad deals for other brands such as Smirnoff vodka, Captain Morgan's Rum and Baileys Irish Cream.

Neither MediaCom nor Diageo executives were available for comment.