World AIDS Day Gets a Cable Spotlight


This year's World AIDS Day, celebrated Dec. 1, coincides with the Western Cable Show. And that fact hasn't been lost on the industry.

Cable Positive, the national organization founded to coordinate cable programmer and operator initiatives in support of AIDS and HIV awareness, plans to send national spokesman Judd Winick to the Western Show.

Winick, who was a cast member on MTV: Music Television's
The Real World
-San Francisco
, will give a luncheon speech at Cable in the Classroom's Educator Day on Friday (Dec. 1).

There, he will introduce a CIC program designed to drive Cable Positive public service announcements and AIDS-themed programming into schools.

The PSAs, which would be video-streamed to participating classrooms next year, will encourage students to volunteer time for AIDS organizations, CIC associate director Taffy Patton said.

Earlier on Friday morning, Winick will speak via satellite from Los Angeles to morning-news hosts across the country as part of a Cable Positive media tour for local broadcasters and cable systems, said Rob Stoddard, AT&T Broadband senior vice president of public relations and the Cable Positive board president.

On Tuesday, Black Entertainment Television will announce plans to produce a "Rap it Up" public-affairs campaign aimed at African-Americans. Also this year, BET will produce live concerts and town meetings for African audiences in support of World AIDS Day, with the help of Cable Positive and Voice of America.

One need not attend the Western Show or even be in the cable industry to be touched by Cable Positive's World AIDS Day message. More than 70 million households across the country are expected to be hit by HIV/AIDS-related PSAs during the nationwide "roadblock" at 8 p.m. Eastern, when cable networks across the dial have dedicated air time to Cable Positive spots.

"It's a very powerful way of communicating the message of prevention," Cable Positive executive director Steve Villano said. "Our focus this year is tracking the shift in the HIV virus."

Because the virus is spreading quickly through the under-25 population and among African Americans, Latinos and women, Cable Positive is targeting each group with a distinct message, including its first Spanish-language spots. The organization also hopes to target nine cities where AIDS is the leading cause of death for women aged 22 to 44: Chicago; Houston; Los Angeles; San Francisco; Miami, Fla; New York; Newark, N.J.; Philadelphia; and Washington, D.C.

Comcast Corp. produced its own public-affairs programming in support of World AIDS Day, which will air on some of the MSO's cable systems, Villano said.

"Comcast is a very important part of this because three of those nine markets-Newark, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C.-are located in the heart of Comcast territory," Villano added.

Other operators, including AT&T Broadband and Cablevision Systems Corp., also plan to air long-form content of their own, at least in some systems.

MTV plans to take its World AIDS Day message around the world with two original productions that bow Friday, as well as its own PSAs.

Hosted by singing star Ricky Martin, MTV documentary
Staying Alive 2

profiles six young people from around the world who are dealing with HIV and AIDS.

The use of young people who look like MTV viewers will help provide a visceral connection to the subject matter, network vice president of strategic partners and public affairs Stephen Friedman said.

MTV is making
Staying Alive 2

available for free to any network that wants to air it. The show has already received commitments from television stations in South Africa, Kenya, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

On Friday, MTV outlets around the world will air a concert presented by Levi Strauss & Co. and a youth AIDS-awareness group called LIFEbeat. The event features top young musicians, such as 98 Degrees and Outkast.

MTV programming reaches 139 countries.

"Given that more and more young people are becoming infected on a daily basis, it is vital that MTV does everything possible to arm kids with the knowledge to protect themselves," MTV Networks International president and Ambassador for UNAIDS Bill Roedy said in a press release.

Other networks also plan to honor World AIDS Day with related programming. Lifetime Television, for example, plans to run two movies with HIV themes on Friday afternoon.

Disney Channel plans to run a half-hour documentary, called
Friends for Life: Living with AIDS
, that can tie into Cable in the Classroom programs.

Television programming can help teachers lead discussions on topics that are otherwise difficult to bring up, Patton said.

Although Worlds AIDS Day is a one-day event, Cable Positive and many backers work year-round to help further the cause.

"The virus doesn't rest and neither can we," Villano said. "We have to be as aggressive as the HIV virus is."

Because cable has access to the people who need to be reached with AIDS-awareness messages, it has the obligation to present them, Villano said.

"I've never seen an industry come together for such a noteworthy cause and do it so strongly," he added. "It's a model of corporate responsibility and leadership."