Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Nightly News Says "Buy Aleve! Buy Chevy! Buy Coke!"

As usual, Brian Williams, Robert Bazell and the Nightly News producers continue to run "news stories" whose sole purpose is to promote NBC advertisers. On June 8, Nightly News aired a story about a Danish study that concluded that naproxen (sold as Aleve) may reduce the risk of heart attacks among its users. The study also showed that ibuprofen and celebrex increased the risk of heart attacks. Aleve is a frequent advertiser on NBC Universal stations (they advertise on Nightly News almost every night). It's obvious that Bazell and his producers chose to air this story as a favor to their friends at Bayer (Aleve's manufacturer). It was a two-and-a-half minute commercial for their product. I can guarantee that this story would never have run if it contained any negative information about Aleve.

Two nights later, Nightly News viewers were treated to a "news story" about how the Chevrolet executives do not want their cars to be referred to as Chevys. The story consisted entirely of shots of old and new Chevys, including plenty of excerpts from old Chevy ads and lots of testimonials from loyal Chevy drivers (including Brian Williams in his intro to the story). I would estimate that over the years, General Motors (Chevy's manufacturer) has purchased close to a billion dollars worth of advertising on NBC, if not more. So this "news story" was really a two-minute "thank you" from Brian Williams and the Nightly News producers to their pals at GM. But wait, there's more. Right in the middle of this story, the producers found a way to insert a clip from a Coke commercial (they made a comparison between the Chevy name debacle and the Coke/New Coke formula change blunder from 1985). So in the middle of a two-minute Chevy commercial, they figured out a way to throw some free advertising to their pals at Coke (I couldn't even begin to guess how much money Coke has spent advertising with NBC). Brilliant. Even better, the Coke commercial excerpt featured Bill Cosby, who starred in one of the most popular television shows ever to air on NBC. NBC is certainly still earning money from "Cosby Show" reruns and DVD sales. So including Bill Cosby in a news story is a not-so-subtle reminder to the viewers to buy "Cosby Show" DVDs and watch "Cosby Show" reruns (so the ratings go up and the local stations continue to purchase the show). In fact, the Nightly News producers have figured out a way to include Cosby in three news stories this year--twice in the past week. If anyone thinks this is just a coincidence, there's a bridge over the East River that I'd like to sell you.

And on Monday's broadcast, Lester Holt took thirty seconds of news time to tell us that Starbucks will soon be providing free Wi-Fi to their customers, and that McDonald's was already doing so. So this was just a commercial telling Nightly News viewers why they should go to Starbucks and McDonald's. Maybe in the not-too-distant future, Brian Williams and his producers can use all their air time to promote their sponsors' products. That certainly seems to be where they're heading.

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