A New Front In War On AIDS

A global media campaign to fight HIV/AIDS through public service messages (PSAs), television and radio programming, as well as outdoor, print and online content, has been launched by media giant Viacom Inc. and the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.

A multi-year initiative that began Monday,it features Viacom ad placements for 2003 valued at $120 million. They will run across the company's television, radio, outdoor advertising and online properties.

"Our audience at MTV definitely is not hearing as much on a daily basis about HIV and AIDS in the last five to ten years," says MTV VJ John Norris. "And our audience needs to be reminded of that."

Viacom is the parent company of both Both MTV and CBS.

Here are some statistics about HIV/AIDS:

In the more than two decades since the epidemic began, 60 million people worldwide, including almost a million and a half in the U.S., have become infected.

More than 20 million people across the globe have died.

Today, more than half of new HIV infections are among people under age 25.

While there is not yet a cure for AIDS, it can be prevented.

UNAIDS estimates that two-thirds of the HIV infections projected to occur over the next decade could be avoided with increased awareness and global prevention efforts.

The goal of the campaign is to reach the most difficult to reach, says Dr. David Satcher, former U.S. Surgeon General and a fellow at the Kaiser Family Foundation.

"Increasingly, this is an epidemic of young people in this country. One-half of the new cases are taking place in people under 25 years of age," he says. "And I would say that today most of our new cases are occurring in those populations that are most difficult to reach, minorities, the poor, people who are addicted to drugs, people who are on the streets."

Every division of Viacom will be involved in the campaign, including cable television brands MTV, BET, Showtime, VH1, TNN, CMT, and others; broadcasters CBS and UPN; more than 180 Infinity radio stations; Viacom Outdoor's billboards and transit displays; publisher Simon & Schuster; television producers Paramount Television, Viacom Productions, CBS Productions and King World; Paramount Pictures; Paramount Home Entertainment; Viacom's online properties; and home entertainment chain Blockbuster, among others.

The company's HIV/AIDS effort builds upon current activities within Viacom, including, MTV's youth awareness campaign: "Fight for Your Rights: Protect Yourself/Be Safe," which launched in 1997, as well as MTV Networks International's "Staying Alive" and BET's "Rap It Up" awareness campaign, both of which commenced in 1998.

In addition, CBS, UPN, and Infinity have aired PSAs on HIV/AIDS and sexual health, and Showtime and Paramount have long traditions of employee volunteer efforts aimed at combating the disease. They also have produced original programming and movies on the topic.

During the first year, Viacom and Kaiser will produce public service messages for television, radio and outdoor. The PSAs will include a call-to-action and direct audiences to a comprehensive Web site, knowhivaids.org or a toll-free number, 1.866.344.KNOW (5669). All PSAs will be offered rights-free to other media outlets. MTV has a number of specials coming up, addressing all aspects of sexual health among young people.

"We've got a special coming up this week Friday evening about a young man about to go on trial in South Dakota on charges of knowingly infecting three young women with HIV," Norris says. "We're trying to tackle all aspects of it, because you cannot remind young people enough that this is something they need to know.

"And it's a cliche to say that knowledge is power, but in this case knowledge really is power. Because the more you know, the more you can take steps to protect yourself and get tested. And if you turn up positive, God forbid, you deal with it. You know, and in an effective way," Norris adds.

Under the entertainment programming component of the campaign, Kaiser has been holding briefings on HIV/AIDS for the creators of primetime series produced by or for Paramount Television, CBS, UPN and Showtime. As a result, a number of series have committed to including HIV/AIDS story lines and script references in shows, including "Girlfriends," "Enterprise," "Becker," "Frasier," "The District," "The Agency," and "Queer as Folk." HIV/AIDS themes will also be explored on syndicated talk shows and game shows either produced or distributed by Viacom.

The U.S. campaign will incorporate programming on HIV/AIDS from Viacom's cable networks, including material developed by MTV and BET as part of their ongoing HIV/AIDS initiatives. The New TNN, Nick at Nite, TV Land, VH1, CMT and others will air PSAs appropriate to their audiences and integrate HIV/AIDS awareness messages into existing programming. Through special programming, public service messages and parent resources, Nickelodeon and Noggin will focus on age-appropriate information about the disease. Showtime will broadcast HIV/AIDS-related Showtime Original Pictures and multiple episodes of various Showtime original series on the subject. Showtime will also create additional on-air and online content.

"I think people can really relate to people as individuals and families," Dr. Satcher says. "And I think there are some really interesting stories surrounding this pandemic, from a global perspective. And this whole issue of balance, which John (Norris) mentioned, how do we really stimulate, and motivate people at this time in history. How do we mobilize communities? And I think the story line is a very important approach to doing that. There is an elemental battle fatigue when you've dealt with an epidemic for 22 years. So we've got to come up with new strategies, and personalizing it, I think, is a major part of that."

Additionally, Kaiser and Simon & Schuster will produce a free guide on HIV/AIDS, which will provide basic information about the disease, prevention, and testing.

There is also a Viacom employee education component to the campaign. Internationally, the campaign will produce public service messages, targeted to populations in countries where the disease is spreading the fastest. In addition to using its own assets, including MTV Networks International, Viacom Outdoor Europe and Blockbuster, Viacom intends to partner with local broadcasters to increase distribution of material. The international campaign is expected to begin during the second quarter of 2003.

Funding for the development of the campaign, including the public service announcements, is being provided by Viacom, the Kaiser Family Foundation, the Mel Karmazin Foundation, and Sumner Redstone.

Viacom is a leading global media company, with preeminent positions in broadcast and cable television, radio, outdoor advertising, and online.

The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation is an independent national health philanthropy dedicated to providing information and analysis on health issues to policymakers, the media, and the general public. It is not associated with Kaiser Permanente or Kaiser Industries.