By Ben Cooper

Global drinks force, Diageo, is to form a "network" of local network affiliates, cable TV channels and other TV stations in the US, which will air TV advertising for its major spirits brands. The group's change of tack follows the decision by NBC not to carry spirits advertising on its national network.

The idea of a group of independent stations sharing ads instead of programmes is not new but Diageo is thought to be the first marketing company to create its own "unwired network" in order to make media buying more efficient.

Diageo has appointed Grey Global Group's Mediacom media buying and planning unit to advise on the initiative. The diverse group of stations is expected to give Diageo coverage of between 86% and 90% of the US population. "The networks would have been efficient, but with the NBC decision we had to create our own method," said Diageo spokesman Gary Galanis.

The NBC decision only affected spirits advertising on national networks which was being piloted by NBC as a possible prelude to other networks following suit. Liquor advertising has, however, been seen on US TV stations such as network affiliates, local stations and cable channels since 1996.

Diageo said it would still abide by the terms which governed the NBC ads. The ads will only be shown during programmes where at least 70% of the audience is of legal drinking age and will only involve actors aged 25 years and older. One out of every five spots will be given over to a social responsibility message.

Diageo did not name the stations which would be participating but those involved are likely to be in for something of a windfall of new business. Underlining what the national networks have missed out on in bowing to political pressure against taking spirits advertising, Galanis said the group had planned to spend some $1 billion on network TV advertising over the next five years. He said the company "will spend an amount that would result in an equal amount of reach on the new network."