In what could be a worrying trend for US network television, the nation's high-spending pharmaceutical companies appear to be losing faith in TV as a direct-to-consumer medium.

According to Nielsen Monitor-Plus, drugmakers cut spending on network TV advertising by 10% year-on-year in the first quarter of 2005 , the steepest quarterly fall in two years. Or in dollar terms, down from $44 million (€37m; £25m) in Q1 2004 to $388.5m a year later.

More worrying yet, the fall is not attributed to parsimony but to doubts about the efficacy of the medium - and more particularly the shortcomings of the sixty-second TV spot.

Frank Ginsberg, chairman of ad agency Avrett Free & Ginsberg, which numbers Orajel dental pharmaceuticals among its clients, opines that drugmakers "are trying to spend their money more selectively".

He believes the current cutbacks in TV spend could deepen as drug companies pursue more targeted pitches to consumers via the internet, cable TV and direct mail.

AstraZeneca ceo David Brennan is of like mind. His company, which spent $9.4 million on TV ads in Q1 2004 for anti-cholesterol drug Crestor, spent just $1.1m in the same period this year.

The latest TV treatment places more emphasis on the drug's risks but Brennan wants to take a more educational approach, opining: "Some of that can be better done in print than in a 60-second ad."

Data sourced from USA Today Online; additional content by WARC staff