Imagine that you're relaxing on the sofa channel-surfing. You pause on a channel with a woman in a white lab coat talking about allergies. At the end of her lecture, she asks you to push a button on your remote to get more information about the drugs she's just talked about.
If you live in Europe, this could soon be a reality.
The proposed channel, which would also show health-related news, is a combined effort of four big pharmaceutical companies: Johnson & Johnson (NYSE: JNJ), Pfizer (NYSE: PFE), Novartis (NYSE: NVS), and Procter & Gamble (NYSE: PG). Before the channel can go live, there will need to be changes in European laws since direct-to-consumer advertising of medicinal drugs is currently banned in Europe. Five years ago, the industry and patient groups -- which the companies fund -- failed to overturn the ban on "disease awareness campaigns," so convincing the European commission that it's in the best interest of patients may be an uphill battle.
Advertising to consumers on TV and radio, as well as in magazines and newspapers, has been available to drug manufactures in the U.S. for the past 10 years. In that time, advertising has increased substantially, from $1.1 billion in 1997 to $4.2 billion in 2005. According to the U.S. Government Accountability Office, the amount spent on direct-to-consumer advertising has increased twice as fast as spending on promotion to physicians or on research and development. The reason is clear -- advertisements sell products.
From a patient's perspective, I'm not sure I'd watch something like this. Then again, I have a DVR so I don't have to watch the commercials, which means I might not be the typical consumer. Using the remote to interact with the digital TV channel sounds an awful lot like navigating a Web page, so I wonder if using the Internet wouldn't be a better choice for the companies. Personally, I might be more inclined to do research about a disease on a pharma-sponsored website.
From an investor's perspective, it sounds like a great idea if it will sway consumers enough to get them to talk to their doctor. Drug companies don't typically report their advertising budgets for drugs, but a 2003 Harvard University-MIT study found that every dollar spent on advertising resulted in $4.20 in increased sales. Assuming the drug manufacturers are able to keep the same gross margins, the channel has the potential to increase sales significantly.
Johnson and Johnson is a Motley Fool Income Investor newsletter selection. To see what other great dividend payers are helping the service beat the market, take a free 30-day trial today.
Pfizer is an Inside Value recommendation.Fool contributor Brian Orelli, Ph.D., doesn't own share of any companies mentioned in this article. He blogs about start-up biotech companies at Babybiotechs.com. The Fool has an ironclad disclosure policy.