In an almost unprecedented display of unity, more than 500
cable networks and operators throughout North and South America will participate in this
year's World AIDS Day initiative Dec. 1.
This year's event, again spearheaded by Cable Positive,
will feature several hours' worth of special programming and activities, as well as
public-service announcements specially designed to educate viewers about the prevention
and treatment of HIV and AIDS.
The reasoning for all of this effort lies in cold
statistics: 30 million people are currently infected worldwide, with teen-agers,
minorities and women at the greatest risk.
"Young adults in this country feel invincible, and
they don't realize that the virus is still spreading," said Bill Rosendahl, senior
vice president of operations for Century Communications Corp. of Southern California and a
Cable Positive board member. "It's [causing the genocide of] entire groups of people
in developing countries."
"I'm not surprised personally at the industry's
support of this effort," Cable Positive executive director Molly Padian said,
"because I deal with these executives day in and day out, all year long. But I know
that other people are shocked at how proactive the cable industry is and at how the whole
industry unites behind the cause."
Since its inception in 1992, Cable Positive has raised more
than $3 million from the cable industry.
This year's World AIDS Day is themed, "Be a Force for
Change," with original-programming highlights including Disney Channel's Friends
for Life: Living with AIDS, a documentary that looks at four children living with the
disease; and Lifetime Television's Touch Me, a theatrical about a young woman with
Rich Ross, Disney Channel's senior vice president of
programming and production, said his network was actively looking to expand its
issue-oriented programming, and cable's commitment to AIDS information made it a natural.
"We felt that, being a family network, we had a unique
way of getting a message across about a topic that can be very uncomfortable for families
to talk about," he said.
The 30-minute result, which will air throughout December,
"is not a medical half-hour it's the story of four kids and of how those
families strive for life, friends and peace. These kids are put upon more than most
they may or may not be living with a commuted death sentence," Ross added.
AIDS awareness and education are also prime reasons for
Lifetime's involvement, according to its senior vice president of public affairs, Meredith
She noted that Lifetime first got involved with the issue a
decade ago, when it produced a documentary on women and AIDS. "There was not much
coverage of women being at risk of AIDS at the time," Wagner said. "We may have
been one of the first media outlets involved with that issue."
Wagner met with a representative of AmFAR (the American
Foundation for AIDS Research) over the summer as part of Lifetime's commitment to meet
regularly with nonprofit groups, to discuss women's issues and to hopefully reflect them
back on the air.
"One thing that [the AmFAR representative] talked
about was that a year or so ago, there was so much coverage about the new AIDS cocktails
and treatments that people started believing that a cure had been found, and they started
to become a little lax in their behavior about AIDS," Wagner said.
In addition to Touch Me, Lifetime will also repeat
its World AIDS Day movie from last year, Something to Live for: The Alison Gertz Story.
And the network will use one of its "Take a Minute" 60-second news vignettes to
highlight the fact that a cure has not been found.
"It's important for women to remember that this is not
over," Wagner declared. "Just because it is not on the front page of the
newspapers every day, like it was seven years ago, people are still at risk like they were
Steve Kmetko, co-anchor of E! Entertainment Television's E!
News Daily, who is returning this year as a celebrity spokesman for Cable Positive,
agreed. "When you watch an awards show these days, you don't see nearly the number of
AIDS-awareness ribbons that you did five or 10 years ago," he said. "Although
there are protease inhibitors and other drugs on the market now, and people think that the
crisis is over, it's not."
This is Kmetko's second year as spokesman. This time
around, he's being joined by John Norris, correspondent for MTV: Music Television's MTV
News, and Peta Wilson, star of USA Network's La Femme Nikita.
As part of that commitment, Kmetko said he's been involved
with a number of AIDS organizations in the past. He narrated and hosted a training video
for Project Angel Food in Los Angeles, which provides for shut-ins. Kmetko also served as
a celebrity judge at "The Red Dress Party," an event held by Aid for AIDS in Los
Angeles, to which he wore a red dress.
"It's not something that I make a habit of
doing," he laughed, "but anything for the cause."
"Through Steve's participation and the coverage that
we give it, we hope to increase awareness," added Dale Hopkins, E!'s senior vice
president of marketing. "We can use our status as a network especially as one
that is located in and that covers Hollywood in a very helpful way."
Another important part of the enterprise is the PSAs. More
than 450 networks and operators will telecast Cable Positive-provided PSAs throughout the
day, culminating in a PSA "roadblock" at 8 p.m.
Padian said Cable Positive circulates a reel of PSAs to
participating companies, with some collected from other organizations and others that it
creates, at a cost of roughly $45,000.
"We know that when it comes to original programming,
an hour, a half-hour, or even a 30-second PSA is a lot to ask of some networks," she
said. Padian added that one of Cable Positive's goals in 1999 is to be more proactive in
creating PSAs itself, especially to promote National HIV Testing Day.
"People do get immune to some PSAs," Padian
admitted. "There is a constant need to create different messages to reach different
"Last year, our big push was that everyone thought
that a cure had been found, and we needed to create PSAs to let people know that AIDS is
not over. This year, we're looking at the fact that teens are in the highest risk group,
as are minority women, so we're coming up with PSAs that are specifically aimed at a 15-
to 24-year-old audience."
For the first time this year, Cable Positive's reel
includes a PSA in American Sign Language, created by Kaleidoscope Television.
A record six MSOs Century, Falcon Cable TV Corp.,
Harron Communications Corp., InterMedia Partners, Jones Intercable Inc. and
Tele-Communications Inc. will run PSAs across their entire subscriber base,
reaching more than 21 million homes.
In addition, Century will serve as the base cable system
for "AIDS Watch," a 24-hour scroll listing the names of the more than 28,000
people who have died from AIDS. Rosendahl said plans are in place for a nationwide
remembrance of the victims by the year 2000.
Rosendahl added that he will again be producing and hosting
AIDS Update, which will air on one of Century's channels. He described it as
"a roundtable discussion where we talk about the latest therapies and treatments, the
latest politics surrounding the issue and where we go from here."
Century is also actively involved in the "AIDS in the
Workplace" seminar program, which is designed to increase employees' awareness of
AIDS issues. Rosendahl said, "1999 is our year of AIDS awareness. We're rolling out,
with Cable Positive, an AIDS-awareness program in all of our systems around the country,
and we're getting all of our employees involved in it."
He added that Century's commitment is modeled after a
similar program introduced by TCI, which will distribute "Guide to San Francisco
HIV/AIDS Service Organizations" brochures to its 180,000-subscriber base in that
Also, Gloucester, Va.-based First Commonwealth
Communications will feature World AIDS Day on its local live call-in talk show, Locally
Yours. Again, the ultimate aim of World AIDS Day is to increase the public's awareness
of the issues surrounding the disease.
"Empathy and compassion are the goals," Ross
said. "Maybe we can't change someone's opinions overnight, but we can get them to
realize that a person with HIV is not a pariah."
"Does a PSA make a difference in people's lives?"
Padian asked. "I can't quantify it, but I am hopeful that if one person sees a PSA or
an AIDS-related TV show, it might change their behavior. Maybe they'll treat someone who
is infected more compassionately." MCN