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Seeking advertising dollars, Fox and MTV owner Viacom want to run anti-smoking ads too

RICHMOND, Va. - More TV networks want to gain from tobacco companies' mandate to run anti-smoking ads that will cost tens of millions of dollars.

Fox Broadcasting and the company behind MTV, Comedy Central and BET argue that a court-ordered plan to air anti-tobacco ads on ABC, CBS and NBC won't do a good job reaching young adult and black viewers. Those populations were aggressively targeted by the tobacco industry and are areas of concern for the public health community.

Fox, which is owned by Rupert Murdoch's Twenty-First Century Fox Inc., and Viacom Inc. are asking the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., to include its channels in the anti-smoking ad purchase.

The required ads stem from a 2006 ruling that the nation's largest cigarette makers concealed the dangers of smoking for decades. A judge ordered the tobacco companies to pay for corrective statements related to issues such as the adverse health effects of smoking, the addictiveness of smoking and nicotine and the negative health effects of secondhand smoke. The companies involved in the case include Richmond, Va.-based Altria Group Inc., owner of the biggest U.S. tobacco company, Philip Morris USA; No. 2 cigarette maker, R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., owned by Winston-Salem, N.C.-based Reynolds American Inc.; and No. 3 cigarette maker Lorillard Inc., based in Greensboro, N.C.

Along with the TV ads, the tobacco companies are also meant to publish statements in newspapers, websites and on cigarette packs.

The tobacco companies and the federal government last month agreed on how to publish the statements. The court must still approve the deal.

The TV portion of the agreement with the Justice Department determined that the tobacco companies must air anti-smoking prime-time TV spots on CBS, ABC or NBC five times per week for one year. The total cost for the TV advertising could range from $40 million to $50 million depending on the time and network, according to Michael Parent, an executive with ad buying firm TargetCast.

In its filing late Monday, Viacom argues the proposed plan "may pervert — rather than serve" the court's intention to remedy the industry's past deception and "ignores the reality that much of the programming on those networks during those hours is not geared to reach youth and African-American demographics."

"Younger viewers are more likely to watch cable (and) the broadcast networks every season is getting a little more greyer and greyer," said Brad Adgate, an analyst for Horizon Media. "If you look at pure ratings maybe the networks will beat them because they're much bigger, but if you want to look at where the target is going to be without waste ... I think they do have a legitimate claim."

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Michael Felberbaum can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/MLFelberbaum .

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