Tuesday, October 28, 2008

P2P is The Way To Be

By Thomas Henning

Kids today need to know accurate facts about HIV/AIDS.

I read a story earlier this week about a suburban St. Louis, Missouri high school in which 50 students might have been exposed to HIV infection. The details are not yet known as to how the exposure might have occurred, or who the individual was who tipped of the county health department, but swift steps were taken by the school district to contain the damage.

According to AP/Google.com, the school district is consulting with national HIV/AIDS organizations in order to “minimize the fallout and prevent the infection – and misinformation – from spreading.” Students from the entire school, which encompasses several towns, are able to receive confidential testing at six stations in the gymnasium. And school superintendent has called two meetings between parents and ministers in the community to increase talks about responsible behavior; he also acknowledges that the students in grades four through 12 have had classes to discuss such behaviors, and their consequences including HIV/AIDS.

While I applaud the school district for not digressing into the 1990’s hysteria we’re all used to seeing in these types of situations, and calling his community into action, I think there’s some new methods of education for students that, after this incident, all schools should be looking into: Cable Positive’s own Youth AIDS Media Institute (YAMI).

It’s no secret kids talk to each other differently than in a classroom setting, think back to your high school days; remember when calculus sounded like a foreign language before that group study session?

Research suggests that personalized messaging, and messaging coming from a source that individuals deem to be like them, facing the same concerns and pressures, is more impactful and more likely to change ones behavior and attitude. I am of this school of thought and believe that kids teaching kids about issues that affect them tremendously like HIV/AIDS, is more impactful and lasting than hearing about it from an adult, in most cases many years their elder.

The goal of YAMI is to promote peer to peer HIV/AIDS education among today’s youth, by stressing the correct facts about HIV/AIDS and empowering kids to spread awareness messages using today’s multiplatform media devices like cell phones and the internet to get the job done.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

A Hall of Fame for Cable Positive Advocates

By Steve Villano

Cable Positive is in the house!” to paraphrase the Sportsmen Channel’s Mark Kang, the ever effusive and energetic supporter of the cable industry’s smart, service-oriented initiatives. And, Cable Positive was definitely “in the house” last week and this week—in Denver and New York—at two Hall of Fame celebrations, and a Denver Chapter “Broadway-style” benefit that raised tens of thousands of dollars for local community-based AIDS organizations throughout Colorado.

In 14 years of doing a cable industry musical satire entitled “Positively Cable,”—and raising over $1 million to fight AIDS—the industry’s Denver-based Cable Positive advocates deserve their own very special wing in the Cable Center’s Hall of Fame. Their work has defined both community-building and corporate team building, year after year.

But, that wasn’t the only place “Cable Positive was in the house.” At the Cable Center’s Hall of Fame celebration the following evening in downtown Denver’s new Convention Center, 5 of the 6 honorees had an involvement with Cable Positive. Insight’s Michael Willner, received Cable Positive’s Power Award for Corporate Leadership earlier this year. Scripps’ Susan Packard, served as a long-time member of Cable Positive’s Honorary Chairs, and was instrumental in establishing Scripps’ continual support of our fight against HIV/AIDS at both the local and national levels. George Bodenheimer’s teammates at ESPN, ABC/Disney have been among Cable Positive’s strongest advocates, airing our HIV/AIDS awareness PSAs during their valuable airtime. Bodenheimer’s colleague—Anne Sweeney—was honored by Cable Positive a decade ago, for her leadership in using the power of cable and television in fighting AIDS. Hearst’s Ray Joslin, guided his company’s early support of Cable Positive, and remains an organizational advocate. And Cable Labs’ Dick Green, and his colleague Chris Lammers, provided extensive pro-bono support to Cable Positive when we re-designed and re-launched our highly effective website at the beginning of this decade.

At the Broadcasting & Cable Hall of Fame Dinner held at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in NYC last night, Cable Positive’s place as an essential public affairs initiative of the industry was evident in every one of Cable’s honored leaders. Two of the honorees—Time Warner’s Glenn Britt and Showtime’s Matt Blank—had not only been awarded Cable Positive’s Joel A. Berger Corporate Leadership Award, but they’ve integrated working with Cable Positive and our programs at all levels of their companies, in communities across the country. One honoree—Rainbow Media’s Josh Sapan, Rainbow will be honored with a Cable Positive Power Award in 2009, at the National Show. And Fox News’ Roger Ailes—whose organization has been a generous supporter of Cable Positive initiatives over the past 5 years—was singled out for praise by Richard Gere, for providing almost half-a-million dollars in pro-bono satellite time in India, to air a public service spot on AIDS awareness, prepared by the Gere Foundation.

Leading the generous advocacy of B & C to donate a portion of the evening’s proceeds to Cable Positive, were long-time Cable Positive supporter and Joel A. Berger Award recipient Bill McGorry, and Cable Positive’s Board of Directors Member, Larry Dunn. All of this on the day when the estate of Joel’s father, Moe—a gentle man, proud of his son’s activism within the cable industry in the fight against AIDS—continued Joel Berger’s legacy of advocacy, with a considerate contribution to the cause.

Yes, Cable Positive is in the house, it’s part of the fabric of the industry and its enlightened leadership, and it is one of the most powerful and effective public service gifts the cable industry has given to the public, and to its own employees.

Friday, October 17, 2008

No Longer an Issue?

By Thomas Henning

I am all about my “stories.” I have a few of them and we all get together one night a week and, along with mistress DVR, spend some quality time together. It is a delicious escape, sitting there watching The Hills, Gossip Girls, or Lipstick Jungle and not thinking about the twelve thousand items on my to-do list. I will even watch the commercials, now and then, to see if there is anything interesting. There rarely is.

Why is that? I know that commercials are evolving. Dove teamed up with MTV and Alicia Keys to create a micro-series with fully realized episodic content shown during the commercial breaks of full-sized shows. I was watching The Hills the first time I saw it.

Since then I have seen others on LOGO, TNT, and elsewhere.
They are interesting and I was excited about the idea of commercials telling stories in a longer format spot because it seemed like an effective hook to keep the audience engaged with your message.

I admit that I was excited because of the potential for cause-marketing initiatives. I spent more time looking for the longer format cause-related PSAs but I didn’t find any and I began to ask myself why? Other countries have done it. One of my favorites is from China.

How incredible would it be to have something like this, starring celebrities from sports, music, film, television, and beyond? I mean, why haven’t we done this? This commercial is two years old. It was aired on the subway, on television, and this is China we are talking about.

Look I am not saying it is perfect, but it featured some of China’s biggest film stars, including Andy Lau, which contained grade-school-level content in an engaging format that addressed a number of myths and misinformation. Easy to understand and fun to watch. Come on. The money and effort put into the piece clearly demonstrated to the consumer that the government was putting some effort into addressing the issue. Again, this is China we are talking about. Whatever your position, it marked progress. Are we showing that same progress?

Airtime is expensive and a seven minute spots would be costly. It would cost more to produce and the airtime value would be higher. I get it. That said, I still want to know why? Why are other countries doing this and we are not? Is AIDS really no longer an issue? With the recent announcement of infection rates being higher than previously reported…40% higher…are we still not paying attention?

I don’t know. It makes me sad, and then it makes me mad. There are companies that could pay for it. Pharma could pay for it. The piece could be a tool used by local communities all over the country. It could get us talking about it, again, and keep us talking about it. It could be shown in schools, on the web, in subways, and in-flight movies. I am just saying.

I spend some time, each week, with Blair, Serena, Wendy, Niko, and Lauren Conrad. It would be great to know that while I spend that time with them escaping from my day to day, I could walk away with some tools to make better, more informed choices for the next day. It would be great to know that those tools were made available during programs that didn’t air at 2am. It would be great to know that after 26 years, people still get this isn’t someone else’s problem. It would be great to hear people talking about it at the water cooler.

I don’t think a micro-series is the solution. I don’t think that an AIDS commercial in the form of a musical is the solution. I do think that it can be an innovative approach to finding solutions. Look, if Disney’s success with High School Musical shows us anything, it has shown us that there are new ways to reach younger audiences with great results. What are we waiting for?

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Doctor Gallo’s Gift

By Steve Villano

This week’s decision by the Nobel Committee to snub Dr. Robert Gallo in handing out Nobel Prizes for Medicine to two other European AIDS researchers, who co-discovered the HIV virus along with Dr. Gallo, was nothing short of an insult to those of us involved in the fight against HIV/AIDS over the last several decades.

While Gallo was gracious about the slight, and had high praise for his long-time friend and colleague Dr. Luc Montagnier who received one of the awards, the Committee’s decision was not only unfair, but it also undermined the spirit of collaboration that many in the AIDS community know is essential to find a cure and to make progress.

I am not an unbiased observer here. I have known Dr. Gallo for several years, and have followed his work for several decades. More than four years ago, at the invitation of John D. Evans, a long-time supporter of Cable Positive and one of the founders of C-SPAN, Dr. Gallo and I shared a panel with Dr. Seth Berkeley, head of the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative before the Washington D.C. Cable Club, which was aired on C-SPAN. I toured the Institute of Human Virology which he founded in Baltimore, met with his Board, and with the dedicated staff who drive the good work of Institute.

Dr. Gallo’s gift, in addition to his dedication of his life and his tenacity toward finding first, the cause, then the cure for AIDS, is a unique ability to make complicated medical & scientific information understandable to the average citizen. Time and time again, when AIDS researchers retreated into the jungle of their jargon, it was Dr. Gallo who interpreted what was needed to members of Congress and the public. It was no accident that the President’s PEPFAR program awarded Gallo’s Institute of Human Virology $140 million to conduct its work at 108 sites in 36 countries. Dr. Gallo is a brilliant communicator and leader, and his Institute does superb, life-saving work.

I know Dr. Gallo, and he is not at all like the public perception of him portrayed in the 15-year old HBO film, “And the Band Played On.” In fact, I have communicated directly to the leadership of HBO that the film does a disservice to Dr. Gallo’s pioneering work, and that each time the film is replayed on college campuses or on cable, it compounds the unfairness to him. I have even recommended a new, updated documentary on the search for an AIDS vaccine, and Dr. Gallo’s crucial role—to this very day—in that noble pursuit. His passion, his persistence in the face of daunting odds, and his daily work dedicated to helping HIV positive people around the world, deserve the gratitude of each of us and the appreciation of a world made better by his presence.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

More Will Make a Difference

By Thomas Henning

Perhaps my love affair with community makes me sound provincial. As my daddy would say, I could give a rat’s ass. I never knew what that meant but it always made me giggle even when delivered in lively but less than whimsical tones.

Here is my point. Urban sophistication is more than emulating the latest spread in Vogue, Men’s Vogue, Elle D├ęcor, or Field & Stream. Sophistication, at least in my book, is knowing more and doing better than what is merely expected of you.

When I was growing up, my house was about 5 miles out of town. Every day, I would drive by this broken down house that was still lived in by a family of less than established means. The house was a bit of an eyesore for those in town that considered themselves established. They would sarcastically refer to it as “the compound.”

When my brother and I first moved into town, it was all we heard. Townspeople were almost apologetic to us for having to pass it on our route into town. My brothers got caught up in the elitist hysteria and, once while we were driving by, threw an empty soda can in their front yard. In the middle of the road, I stopped the car and forced them to pick up the can from their yard. They were angry at me for causing a fuss but we had a long conversation about why we didn’t handle ourselves with such entitled disregard that helped to shape each of moving forward.

Don’t let me fool you. I was not a child with an angelic nature. However, even then I understood that fortune is cyclical and how you handle the good fortune will influence how the bad fortune handles you.

Years later, when my brother Sam died, the gentleman, Rick, who lived in that broken down home walked the five miles into town to pay his respects to my brother during his wake. I will never forget that. I offered to drive him home, after the service, and he shared his memories of my brother with me. It was a voyeuristic but profoundly accurate perspective of who my brother was.

He didn’t walk the five miles because we picked up the can. I don’t think anyone was even home that day. He came because of the legacy that my brother, at only 17 years of age, left behind.

To me, that is community. A legacy of character made of as many layers as there are people in that community. People are more because they have more in them to give and are selfless enough to give it.

Take this Saturday. The New York Chapter of Cable Positive is getting together to help Iris House, a community based AIDS organization that provides social services to HIV positive women and their families living in Manhattan. MTV & BET Network employees, along with New York chapter member and Cable Positive staff are giving up a Saturday to help repaint a common space at the agency used by clients and staff for meetings, exercise classes, support groups, and other activities.

If you’d like to help, Iris House is located at 2348 Adam Clayton Jr. Boulevard, New York, NY 10030. We’ll be there Saturday, October 4th from noon to 5pm. Please contact Dana Levitt @ 212.459.1547 or dana@cablepositive.org for more information.

It isn’t much but it’s more and that “more” will make a difference. I don’t think the size of that difference matters. It is the fact that a selfless difference will be made to help those in need of some help.

That is how community, and its legacy, builds. One day a person reaches out their hand and asks how they can help; sits down beside a person and lends an ear; walks by and shares a much needed smile. Little by little, that momentum builds and fortune smiles.