Stars Urged to Rethink "Bud.TV"
Child Protection and Health Advocates Call on Affleck, Damon, Others to Insist on Age-Verification Programs to Shield Underage Kids
WASHINGTON—Several top Hollywood actors are being urged to reconsider their participation in Bud.TV—an online video entertainment web site being developed by Anheuser-Busch. Sixty health, safety and child-protection organizations are urging Ben Affleck, Matt Damon, Kevin Spacey and Vince Vaughn to insist that the beer company at least verify the ages of visitors to the site, and to reconsider their participation with the venture in the first place.
According to published reports, Anheuser-Busch intends to feature programming developed by production companies associated with those film artists as well as user-generated videos when the site premiers in February 2007. Bud.TV will be aimed at the young people who use video sites like YouTube and social networking sites like MySpace. “The main reason that we’re doing this is that we need to connect to these new beer consumers,” Anheuser-Busch executive Tony Ponturo told the Associated Press.
“Willie Sutton robbed banks because ‘that’s where the money is,’” said George A. Hacker, director of the alcohol policies project at the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI). “Anheuser-Busch trolls the Internet because that’s where the young people are. There they can reach out to kids, free from parental interference and government regulators. These actors should rethink whether they want their appeal to young people to be exploited by Anheuser-Busch.”
According to research estimates, underage consumers drink as much as 20 percent of all the alcohol consumed in America, and each day 7,000 kids in the U.S. under the age of 16 take their first drink. People who begin drinking by 15 years of age are four times as likely to become alcohol dependent as those who wait until age 21. Alcohol producers, such as Anheuser-Busch, rely on young and heavy drinkers for the majority of their sales.
Currently, web sites run by Anheuser-Busch and other alcohol producers merely ask visitors to assert that they are of legal drinking age to enter the site. According to the Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth at Georgetown University, 13 percent of visits to alcohol-branded sites were initiated by underage consumers and 34 percent of in-depth visitors to Anheuser-Busch’s Bud Light site were younger than the minimum legal drinking age.
The groups urged the Hollywood stars to insist that Anheuser-Busch go beyond the honor system and adopt age-verification technologies to help exclude young children. They also asked the stars to reconsider whether the beer site is an appropriate vehicle for the distribution of their creative works.
Underage drinking is a major factor in the three leading causes of teenage death in the United States: car crashes, homicides, and suicides. Some 5,000 persons under age 21 die each year from alcohol-related causes, and growing evidence suggests that youthful drinking may result in long-term brain damage, as well as a significantly increased risk of alcohol dependence in adulthood.
One of the stars participating in the Bud.TV project, Ben Affleck, was treated for alcoholism in 2001.
Besides CSPI, other signers of the letters to Affleck, Damon, Spacey, and Vaughn—all of which are identical in content— include the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America, National Association of Teen Institutes, National Association for Children of Alcoholics, and the American Osteopathic Association.
Contact Jeff Cronin (jcronin[at]cspinet.org) or Ariana Stone (astone[at]cspinet.org).