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Sales and service

From the beginning, we thought TVB had a great idea: a convention of TV-station executives in New York in the same building as the New York Auto Show. Here was an opportunity for broadcasters to meet old friends, compare notes and rub hubcaps with their principal advertisers. After all, they're in the same business: sales and service.

Well, we were right. It was a great idea. Last Tuesday, some 500 broadcasters (and 200 ad execs and vendors) met at the Javits Center for the TVB Marketing Conference as the cars were rolled into the exhibition halls. It will probably stand as the year's largest gathering of TV-station managers, with NATPE having lost its way and the NAB convention becoming more and more a techie affair. (The NAB seems to have given up all pretense of running a broadcasters' convention. It now bills the gathering as "The World's Largest Electronic Media Show," whatever that means.) The TVB conference worked because TVB President Chris Rohrs made sure everybody had plenty of reasons to be there, though all that auto money should have been enough. He persuaded seven station groups and the NBC affiliate board to meet in connection with the conference. And he put together a first-rate program.

The conference gave a psychological lift to the broadcasters who attended. Although nobody promised a swift end to the advertising drought, all agreed that business is getting better, that the rebound has begun. More important, the conference got broadcasters together in numbers large enough to remind them they are still a force to be reckoned with.

The higher cost of ignorance

A month ago (Feb. 25), we ran a story pointing out that about $1.4 billion in TV ad revenue was in jeopardy. Concerned that the advertising of prescription drugs is contributing to soaring health-care costs, we reported, Washington policymakers are second-guessing their 1997 decision to permit such ads. Sentiment to ban or restrict them is building, we said.

That's the bad news. The good news is that the NAB is working closely with the American Association of Advertising Agencies to protect the ad category. Speaking at the TVB conference last week, NAB top lobbyist Jim May outlined the situation and put the broadcasters present on full alert, noting that some of the anti-advertising impetus was coming from large corporations, which pick up a big share of the nation's health-care bill.

There is a legitimate debate here. But, until we have some definitive evidence that prescription-drug advertising does more harm than good, we would rather err on the side of putting more information in the hands of the public than less. That means letting the spots roll.

NAB's win/loss record on key issues is as least as good as any Final Four team's. But, as May acknowledged, it's the kind of organization that wins only if broadcasters get out there and work their senators and congressmen. Make some appointments.