Viacom Is Planning a Multimedia Campaign Against AIDS

A campaign scheduled to launch in January will use unsold advertising time on CBS and Viacom's other networks, plus its TV and radio stations and outdoor billboards, for messages about AIDS. But the company says the effort will go beyond traditional public service announcements to weave AIDS messages into the scripts of TV shows and possibly films.

Using movies and TV shows to promote public health messages is not new: For several years, the CDC has consulted with Hollywood producers on a variety of health issues. But Viacom's campaign is perhaps the broadest effort yet by a single company to tackle a health-related issue, said Drew Altman, president of the Kaiser Family Foundation, which is advising Viacom. Company executives were recently briefed on the epidemic by Altman and Stephen Lewis, UN special envoy on HIV/AIDS. Viacom President Mel Karmazin said that the company would only make suggestions to its creative units and would not require producers to dedicate programming to the topic. Altman acknowledged that the company runs certain risks in taking up a public health issue that many people associate with inappropriate behavior.

Viacom is earmarking roughly $120 million worth of advertising time for the project, which is to run for two years or longer. Public service announcement production and research costs are projected at about $3 million. Donations of $250,000 each are coming from Karmazin's charitable foundation and from Viacom Chair Sumner Redstone. The Kaiser Foundation is giving nearly $1 million; Viacom is contributing the rest.

Mara Brock Akil, executive producer and creator of "Girlfriends," a UPN show about four black women in Los Angeles, said her series is already at work on episodes about AIDS.

"We know that African-Americans and young people receive the majority of their AIDS information from the media," said Phill Wilson, executive director of the African-American AIDS Policy Training Institute. "We have had 20 years of public health messages about AIDS. But we have not had 20 years of coordinated messages across radio, television, movies and billboards."

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