We recently reported the nationwide gun debate is moving to local gun shop advertising as well: Last month Time Warner Cable placed more stringent controls on commercials advertising guns. A new Time Warner Cable rule won’t allow any mention of guns in ads except in relation to hunting or gun safety. Now that ban includes Comcast Spotlight ad sales as well. Williams Gun Sight and Outfitters in Davison, MI (outskirts of Detroit) said they learned their money’s no good with Comcast when it rejected their advertising because they no longer accept ads promoting firearms or fireworks. The change in policy happened 2/8 after a deal that gave Comcast controlling interest in NBC Universal, noted a CBS Detroit story.
Comcast is the monopoly cable provider in two-thirds of the markets in the country, said John Kupiec, president of ad agency Canadian American Corp., so their policy now affects every cable channel and major network. And it affects major advertisers including Cabela’s and Walmart.
“The next step is we want to get the lawmakers on Capitol Hill to review the monopolistic rights this company (Comcast) currently enjoys as the largest cable provider in the United States,” Kupiec told CBS Detroit, adding as a last resort, his firm will consider legal action.
Kupiec first discovered the firearms ad ban when he tried to place an ad for Williams Gun Sight, and was told by Comcast they’ll no longer air them.
“Comcast Spotlight has decided it will not accept new advertising for firearms or weapons moving forward,” the company said in a statement. “This policy aligns us with the guidelines in place at many media organizations.”
Williams Gun Sight staffers think it’s a hypocritical, anti-constitutional stance. “We’re a perfectly legal company selling a perfectly legal product and they have chosen us out of all the industries out there to make a stand on what’s right or wrong,” said Williams’ chief operating officer Dan Compeau, adding they’re one of the largest firearms retailers in Michigan.
Compeau added his company spent a “good portion of their advertising” on Comcast. “We were totally caught off guard by it,” he added. “All these TV stations are taking millions, if not billions, from alcohol companies — and alcohol deaths, alcohol sickness … way outpaces anything a gun can do. They’re two-faced. We follow all the rules and regulations, they’ve picked us to be holier than thou about … There are a lot of other issues out there that they ignore. I’m sure they air many other shows where people get shot, killed, blown up.”
Compeau put out word on his company’s Facebook page about the Comcast ad ban and said thousands of people responded. The post got 971 shares and 422 comments, including this from customer Philip Novack: “Just called Comcast and cancelled. I am tired of my $$ going to support anti 2nd amendment corporations. I can’t believe the way they talk out both sides by showing gun violence every single night but won’t accept $$ from a legitimate, legal, honest business like Williams! ENOUGH! Time to take a stand!”
Kupiec told CBS Detroit he’s been in the advertising business since 1980 and this is the first major ban of its kind he’s experienced. “If you’re a gun range, if you sell firearms, ammunition, whatever, they will not accept your advertising,” he said. “That applies to The Outdoor Channel, NBC Sports … If I wanted to buy The Discovery Channel, Comcast will not allow those advertisements on the air.”
He added he thinks it’s a violation of his constitutional rights. “I’m an avid hunter and I believe this is a direct threat on the Second Amendment, a direct assault on legal businesses in the United States, and I think it’s antitrust.”
RBR-TVBR observation: This will likely end up in court. With both Time Warner Cable and Comcast now banning the ads, it represents a significant amount of eyeballs that gun shops nationwide will not be able to reach. Yes, we can see them limiting the content of the ads, but banning them altogether is a bit much. Until guns are illegal, these bans create liability from antitrust behavior, restraint of commerce and invite legal action that includes punitive claims.
We asked By Gregg Skall, Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice, LLP for his opinion: “While cable is not content regulated like broadcasting, neither would be required to carry the advertiser or any particular advertiser. It’s their business and an owner can establish his own standards for what messages he wants to communicate to subscribers or viewers. However, if an advertiser can demonstrate concerted action, there is precedent for knocking out that concerted action,: recall the liquor advertising code that was thrown out. The fact that Comcast is the largest cable carrier in the country is not nearly as relevant as the fact that there are alternative advertising vehicles in every advertising market. This will be an interesting one to watch.”