updated 11/2/2006 6:10:31 PM ET 2006-11-02T23:10:31

Sorry kids. Bud.TV will be checking ID.

Anheuser-Busch Cos. is set to become the first major brewer to weed out underage visitors to its Web sites by hiring an outside firm to check their age.

Currently, major beer companies use only the honor system to keep teenagers from visiting their Web sites advertising popular brews such as Budweiser or Miller Lite. Visitors are asked to enter a birth date to enter, but the information is never verified.

Tony Ponturo, Anheuser-Busch’s vice president of global media and sports marketing, said the company decided to change its policy before launching Bud.TV in February. The site will stream beer-themed shows, sports events and musical acts 24 hours a day.

“I think that everyone in the past had been comfortable, based on the 70/30 rule,” Ponturo said, referring to the policy of advertising only in publications or on shows where at least 70 percent of the target audience is 21 or older.

“I think Bud.TV takes on a different dimension,” he said.

The screening process likely will ask visitors for a name, age and address, including zip code, Ponturo said. The data can be matched against public records such as driver’s licenses and voter registration cards.

Ponturo said Anheuser-Busch employees have been testing the process and found it remarkably accurate at verifying who they were.

It’s unclear if Anheuser-Busch’s biggest competitors will follow its lead. Miller Brewing Co. didn’t return a message seeking comment Thursday. Molson Coors Brewing sent an e-mail saying the company had considered hiring an outside screening company but the process is expensive and ineffective.

“Of the options we have reviewed, people who choose to fill in false information can still do so,” the statement said.

Critics have argued for years that alcohol advertising on the Internet reaches too many underage viewers.

Asking visitors to offer a birth date without verifying it against other information amounted to “farce” that let brewers market to teenagers, said George Hacker, director of the Alcohol Policy Project at the Center for Science the Public Interest.

A 2003 study found that 34 percent of visitors who spent time on the Bud Light site were underage, while 15 percent of such visitors to the Budweiser page were underage, said David H. Jernigan, executive director of the Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth at Georgetown University.

Jernigan supported Anheuser-Busch’s decision to hire an outside firm to screen Web site visitors.

“It’s a step in the right direction,” Jernigan said. “Someone independent of the (alcohol) industry is going to have to assess down the line whether it works.”

Ponturo said he’s in the final stages of choosing the screening company and could make a final decision within 30 days.

Anheuser-Busch is walking a fine line between keeping minors off its Web sites without turning away too many people. The company hopes to draw between 3 million and 5 million visitors to Bud.TV each month.

Visitors who pass the screening process will receive a password that will let them enter any Anheuser-Busch site, Ponturo said.

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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