Friday, April 24, 2009

Texting With a Purpose

From Ashton Kutcher’s competitive twit-off with CNN’s Larry King (Ashton won the campaign to reach a 1,000,000 Twitter followers) to Oprah Winfrey, Barbara Walters and others’ first-time on-air twittering, social media made a big step forward in the consciousness of the public these past few weeks.

At Cable Positive, we use social media to empower and educate young people about sexual health and HIV prevention. Our Youth AIDS Media Institute (YAMI) created a multi-platform educational campaign, including print, web, video and, yes, texting components. The campaign in its entirety can be seen at

The mobile component is particularly innovative and provides an on-going reminder and engagement with the target audience over the course of an entire year. Once someone signs up, once a week for the next year they get a text message that uses humor to keep the issues of HIV/AIDS and sexual health “top of mind”.

Go ahead and sign up by texting “NOLOL” to 61827 on your mobile phone. Or, better yet, forward a link to the campaign to the young people in your life—your friends, children, nieces and nephews—and encourage them to check it out. Or link to the YAMI campaign from your Facebook or Twitter page.

The young people who created the YAMI campaign with Cable Positive scheduled the weekly text messages to deliver every Friday afternoon. That is when their peers are finishing up their school week and thinking about their social plans for the weekend.

It is Friday afternoon as I write this and not long ago, my iPhone peeped and I saw the text message from the YAMI campaign. It makes me smile every week because it reminds me of the powerful impact of Cable Positive’s work and the positive influence the cable industry is having on the lives of young people across the nation.

That influence will grow in the months to come as our YAMI campaign is rolled out nationwide. Thanks again to Motorola for their support of this innovative program.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Hitting the Ground Running

By Sean Strub

Just over two weeks ago, I succeeded Steve Villano as Cable Positive's President and CEO. I’ve admired Cable Positive for a while now, and it is with great pleasure that I accept this new role. I am honored and excited to be a part of the great team Steve has put together and by the opportunity to build on Cable Positive's tremendous record of accomplishment. Steve and I will still be working together at Cable Positive for the next several months, to facilitate a smooth transition and introduce me to Cable Positive's regional chapters and industry leaders.

My first week on the job was a total immersion in the cable industry, as it was during the NCTA convention in Washington, DC. The week was a whirlwind, and I returned to the office with great enthusiasm, a profusion of ideas and a two inch stack of business cards.

I was struck by the tremendous pride expressed by so many people in the industry and the genuine warmth and friendliness with which I was greeted. The only comment I heard more often than "welcome to the industry!" was "you've got big shoes to fill, succeeding Steve!”

MSNBC's Rachel Maddow was our MC at Cable Positive's Power Awards ceremony during the convention. Insight's Michael Willner introduced Rachel, who presented awards to Rainbow Media's Josh Sapan and Charter Communications' Neil Smit for their leadership and commitment in the fight against HIV. Nearly 200 people attended the event, including Showtime’s Matt Blank, Cablevision’s Jim and Charles Dolan as well as many others.

Rachel spoke movingly of her own record of AIDS activism--which is exceptionally admirable--and how the HIV epidemic has been a defining influence on her generation. I am proud to note that Rachel was once wrote POZ Magazine (which I founded) back before she had her show on Air America.

Here are a few clips of the ceremony:

We also unveiled at the convention the results of Cable Positive's first Youth AIDS Media Institute (YAMI), funded by the Motorola Foundation, which brought 17 young people (ages 16 to 23) from several states together to work intensely for six days to create a multi-platform peer-to-peer HIV education campaign. The resulting campaign (including video PSAs, a website, print and mobile components) is fantastic and demonstrates how much more effective HIV education and prevention campaigns can be when they are created by the communities they intend to educate or influence.

Check out the website at or click here to see one of the No LOL in HIV public service announcements. We will be rolling this campaign out nationwide over the next several months. If there are teenagers you care about, send them a note urging them to check out

What this group of exceptional young people accomplished in just a few days is remarkable, in large part because they are remarkable. Everyone who interacted with the YAMI participants--Cable Positive staff and board members, Zenita Henderson and other representatives from Motorola and others in the industry--found great inspiration in the extraordinary creativity, energy and commitment of the young people who became “YAMIU’s” first graduating class.

Their final presentation brought tears to the eye of more than one observer. Right afterwards, Mediacom’s Italia Commisso-Weinand leaned over to me and whispered "with kids like these, there's hope for the world." Italia's right, because hope is what it's all about.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Youth, AIDS & Media: A Powerful Combination

By Steve Villano

Three powerful forces have been building over the past several decades, and, for the first time ever, Cable Positive—with a big boost from the Motorola Foundation—has brought them together with one single goal: saving their generation.

In two weeks, Cable Positive will convene 17 carefully selected young people—aged 16 to 23, from communities of color in Massachusetts, New York and Washington, DC-- at the inaugural session of the Youth AIDS Media Institute University in the nation’s capitol. YAMI-U, as the initiative is called, is a week of intensive training to educate and empower the participants to be HIV/AIDS media advocates using cell phones, blogs, vlogs, Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube in the language—and media—that best reaches their peers.

After years of planning and hard work by Cable Positive and Motorola staff—and a remarkable grant of $250,000 from the Motorola Foundation—this groundbreaking initiative is ready to harness the three growing forces of youth, AIDS and media to educate a generation about the disease and how to prevent it.

With direct hands-on assistance from Cable Positive and Motorola staff—and new cell phones provided by Motorola—the young people from AIDS Service Organizations which Cable Positive has supported over the years, will create a multi-platform HIV/AIDS social advocacy campaign consisting of a 3-minute video—which will serve as the foundation for print, web, mobile and video elements of a full scale HIV/AIDS educational campaign.

The statistics are staggering: one of every two new HIV infections in people under 25 years of age worldwide, and in the U.S., two young people per hour are getting infected, according to the CDC. Equally striking, however, is the explosion of cell phone usage in the 13-24 year old market, where, in 2008, an astounding 85% of that market used cell phones as their primary means of communications.

The simple genius of the Cable Positive/Motorola Foundation’s Youth AIDS Media Institute (YAMI), is that it integrates the explosion of new HIV infections among the youth demographic, with the dramatic use of cell phones among that same age group.
Why not, Cable Positive and Motorola asked, use the technology of one, to fight the tenacity and trauma of the other?

Once the YAMI-U advocacy campaign is completed, by March 31, it will—in all its diverse media formats—be made available to cable systems, websites, and text messaging services around the country, as well as to hundreds of local AIDS service organizations and clinics. Cable Positive will also provide a workbook and on-line toolkit to outline the process of how to use this new multi-platform HIV/AIDS awareness campaign to combat the disease among its most vulnerable population.

Youth, AIDS & Media—is there any better way to invest your money than to save an entire generation?

Friday, February 27, 2009

Inspiring us with the facts, and his feelings

By Steve Villano

The first time I met Dan Brenner was over 25 years ago in law school.

I was a student, and he, a guest lecturer, in my Communications Law class, which could sometimes be a bit boring. Except, of course, when Dan Brenner taught. There was no time for boredom. His mind raced so fast, his humor was so relentlessly smart, that if you snoozed, you’d lose.

Fifteen years later, when I was hired to head Cable Positive, I saw Dan again at the National Cable Show in New Orleans. I went up to him at the Cable Positive Board of Directors meeting where I would be introduced, and whispered in his ear.

“I’m the only person in the entire Cable industry who’s ever been your student in law school,” I said, catching him off guard for a nano-second, watching his gentle eyes smile before his warp-speed wit went into action. “And, I must have done a good job,” he said, “because you’ve chosen not to practice Communications Law.”

In fact, Dan did a very good job, which is no surprise to all of us who know, admire and love him. Whether working as Counsel to former FCC Commissioner Mark Fowler, as General Counsel for NCTA over the past 16 years, or as a leading voice on Cable Positive’s Board for the past decade, Dan Brenner’s brilliance in his work was only eclipsed by his compelling compassion.

In venues outside of Cable Positive, it was easy to be distracted by Dan’s intelligence and how devastatingly funny he could be, with a few carefully chosen words and nuances. Cable Positive benefited by both of those gifts of his, but they took a back seat to his passion for the organization’s mission and his deep feeling for individuals—around the world—living with HIV. Yes, Dan was our General Counsel at Cable Positive and our strategic advisor on how best to present our programs to Cable industry CEOs. But he is far more than that.

Dan Brenner represents the heart-and-soul of Cable Positive and why the industry’s commitment to fighting AIDS is so unique. He has always understood intuitively—long before he worked meticulously with staff developing our “One-for-One Program” of domestic and international anti-retroviral drug assistance—how a rich and powerful industry can direct its vast resources to help people in need of assistance.

I always respected and admired how he challenged me constantly at Cable Positive, but I loved the fact that, through our work with him in fighting HIV/AIDS, he has been fearless in acting on his deep feelings for others, inspiring all of us along the way.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Stimulating More Interest in Fighting AIDS

What if every dollar lost in the stock market or the real estate market over the first 30 days of Barack Obama’s presidency represented a new HIV infection among our nation’s most important infrastructure, our people?

Would the emergency response have been as swift? Would all of the centers of economic, political and media power have been galvanized to stop the rapid spread of the disease?

I hope so. But even my quiet confidence in President Obama’s commitment to devote more resources and attention to battling HIV/AIDS in the United States wrestles with my worry that the 28-year long AIDS crisis has already taken a back seat to more pazzazy, prime-time problems. The collapse of banks, auto companies, 401K plans, State budgets, and real estate values have been sweeping enough to engender enormous and essential multi-billion dollar bailouts. But what about HIV/AIDS, which continues to infect one new person in the U.S., every 9 ½ minutes?

In a new set of HIV/AIDS related statistics just released by the CDC (Centers for Disease Control & Prevention), 1.7 million individuals are estimated to be infected with the HIV virus, including nearly 600,000 who have already died of the disease. In the last year for which we have complete records, 2007, another 14, 561 people died AIDS related deaths, and more than 56,000 became newly infected with HIV.

Sure, I can take some solace that help is beginning to trickle down, since the stimulus bill (the Recovery Act) signed by President Obama this week, included $10 billion for NIH to expand biomedical research in AIDS, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, cancer and heart disease. And, I know that the $86.6 billion allocated over the next two years to help states pay for their Medicaid programs, will assist many lower-income people living with HIV. Those are all essential and long overdue, along with huge increases in HIV prevention funding.

But, what’s real always has a way of purifying promises. In 2008, total US federal funding to combat HIV was $23.3 billion, or, considerably less than the bailout given to insurance giant AIG. Of that AIDS money, only 4 percent went toward prevention, and 25 percent of the total amount went to fighting AIDS abroad.

That is simply not good enough to do the work ahead of us in fighting HIV/AIDS. In many American cities and states, citizens who never owned stocks or 401K plans or homes of their own, are faced with the quiet catastrophes every day of struggling with HIV in a society that has lost interest in them, faster than it was lost from bank accounts.

With hundreds of billions of dollars being used to rebuild this country’s collapsing institutions, jobs & infrastructure, attention must be paid to rebuilding the lives of people living with HIV/AIDS—and the President’s State of the Union address next week would be a good place to start.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Hard Times, Heightened Help

by Steve Villano

Bill Gates has set the bar high once again, for philanthropists and donors.

In 2008, the assets of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundations decreased by 20 percent, dropping from $38 billion down to $31 billion. Spending by the Gates Foundation during 2008—on life & death matters like AIDS, Malaria, TB, and education—was at $3.3 billion. So, what is Bill Gates doing in the face of the greatest economic crisis since the Great Depression? He is increasing giving, up to $3.8 billion.

To Gates, the reason is simple and direct: people with money need to give more, not less, when times are hard, since suffering is dramatically increasing.

“Foundations provide something unique when they work on behalf of the poor, who have no market power, or when they work in areas like health or education, where the market does not naturally work toward the right goals. . . “Gates wrote in his first Annual Letter, published just last month, that “These investments are high risk, and high reward. But the reward isn’t measured by financial gain; its measured by the number of lives saved or people lifted out of poverty.”

Economic hard times are not the time for foundations and corporations to make the lives of the people their generosity serves even harder. If giving and generosity follow such a trickle-down trail, Gates argues, then “we will come out of the economic downturn in a world that is even more unequal, with greater inequalities in health and education, and few opportunities for people to improve their lives.”

The exact same practical philosophy applies to Cable Positive and our many corporate supporters in the telecommunications industry. Cable Positive is unique within the entire global business community: no other industry has designated one specific public health crisis as its mission to fight with the powerful weapons at its exclusive disposal—valuable television airtime, the talent and access of top people in the industry, and the money necessary to serve local communities and thousands of cable employees around the country. Over the past 17 years, the Cable industry has donated nearly $2 billion of airtime and some $20 million dollars to the fight against HIV/AIDS.

Now, more than ever before in the organization’s history, we need more resources from our donors, not less, as our programs—like our brand new Youth AIDS Media Institute, funded by the Motorola Foundation—are reaching more and more people, in the most highly affected communities. Cable Positive has truly become—like C-SPAN—a public service of the cable industry. Now is clearly not the time to pull back on those efforts, but to follow the sound advice of Bill Gates: “I am impressed by individuals who continue to give generously even in these difficult times.”

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Cable Positive: A Model Program for the Public Good

By Steve Villano

If President Obama is looking for an effective example of how corporations or private industry should behave in this brand new era of social responsibility, he needs to use his Blackberry and click on Cable Positive’s website. For the past 17 years, Cable Positive has been practicing the kind of civic virtue that the new President is preaching.

Since its creation in 1992 by three cable industry activists, Cable Positive has recognized what President Obama called in his Inaugural Address, “the price and promise of citizenship.” Cable’s leaders and the entire industry were never required by law to use our vast resources for public service and the public good—we did it because it was the right thing to do.

In the poetry of his Inaugural speech, President Obama paraphrased the great religious philosopher Teihard de Chardin—whom Mario Cuomo frequently quoted—that the spirit of service was personified by a “willingness to find meaning in something greater than themselves.” That’s precisely the self-less spirit that launched Cable Positive when friends, family members and colleagues of cable industry employees were, in large numbers, dying of AIDS, in the days before the discovery of anti-retroviral drugs.

Industry activists like Jeff Bernstein & Lifetime’s Meredith Wagner, and leaders such as Showtime’s Matt Blank, Reed’s Bill McGorry, Rainbow Media’s Josh Sapan, & Time Warner’s Jeff Bewkes felt compelled by compassion and common sense to use the vast creative and communications power of the cable television industry to spread messages of HIV/AIDS awareness, education and prevention—to help save the lives of people they loved, and with whom they worked. There was no gain in it for them or their companies. They just wanted to do what their hearts & minds told them they had a fundamental human responsibility to do.

These cable leaders, this industry, ushered in what the 44th President of the United States called “a new era of responsibility,” long before Barack Obama was in public office. This industry pioneered corporate social responsibility—on behalf of a huge, worldwide industry with enormous power and reach—specifically, in the fight against HIV/AIDS.

We recognized long ago—and we continue to adhere to these truths—that, as President Obama said, “we have duties to ourselves, our nation and the world, duties that we do not grudgingly accept but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character than giving our all to a difficult task.”

Our work, as an industry and as individuals, personifies this ethic of public service.