Comment: Bill Roedy, vice chairman, MTV Networks on pro-social programming

If it’s April it must be MIP-TV, where the world’s leading broadcasters congregate: buyers, sellers, the content&programming folks too. But beyond the deal-making, what about the responsibility we have as broadcasters to include a campaigning, educational or pro-social element in our programming schedules?

This week, I’d like to issue a challenge to everyone at MIP-TV to consider pro-social programming as a core element in scheduling. For those of you who associate such programming with a ratings free-fall and staid, Government Public Service Announcements (PSAs), think again. Nowadays pro-social programming – short and long-form – is entertaining, visually beautiful and can attract high ratings. It is also available across all platforms: TV, mobile and online.

There are other sound business reasons for taking pro-social programming seriously. These include: staff morale, reflecting your audiences’ social concerns and protecting and promoting reputation. Many academic studies show a correlation between good corporate responsibility and financial performance.

MTV Network’s focus has primarily been on HIV and AIDS education campaigns. We’ve been involved since 1981, first in the US and from 1987 globally as MTV Networks and its brands expanded to our current 132 channels and 150-plus digital services.

Now AIDS is seen as an acceptable, even fashionable, cause. Back then, we campaigned on it before it was cool to do so. So why did we do it? Well, it happened almost by accident. Our audience was at high risk from the epidemic and so were people in the music and entertainment worlds into which MTV was born. It was a gut decision before an economic one, but it has worked, ethically and economically.

In 1998 MTV Networks International decided to create a multimedia HIV and AIDS education campaign: Staying Alive. Every year we produce cutting-edge programming on HIV and AIDS themes: documentaries, events, news, discussion programmes and PSAs for TV, web and mobile. Participants have included P Diddy, Bill Clinton, Alicia Keys and Nelson Mandela. Last year, we made our first pro-social, 90-minute feature film, Transit, shot in Mexico, Russia, Kenya and Los Angeles. Our inventory also includes 150 short-form interstitials.

If you think that HIV/AIDS isn’t a priority for your market, then get involved in whatever is relevant to your audiences, be it global warming, sex trafficking, smoking or gun crime.

Pro-social isn’t just about adult demographics. MTVN’s Nickelodeon has long been involved in championing social and health issues. And as recent UK government legislation banning high fat, salt and sugary food advertising to kids and teens has shown, social responsibility is on governments’ agendas too.

All our pro-social material is available to any broadcaster, rights free: no logo, no cost, nothing, nada. Take as much or as little as you want. Some 50 broadcasters worldwide have aired our funny, challenging and inventive pro-social programming. The important thing for broadcasters is to get involved.

On HIV and AIDS, I am delighted to say that many broadcasters worldwide are involved. Dozens of media companies are now part of the Global Media AIDS Initiative (GMAI), set up three years ago at the request of UN secretary general Kofi Annan to harness the power of the world’s media for the fight against HIV and AIDS. My role as chairman of the leadership committee was to build up participation from an initial 22 participants. Our current participant list, 140 companies from 70 countries with new ones joining every week, shows that our industry is becoming aware of the wider role we can all play.

The breadth of collaboration between our members has been impressive. In Asia, 14 broadcasters have worked on World AIDS Day programming. In Africa, a 20-nation Broadcast Media Partnership has been launched. In Russia, 40 media firms have united in a comprehensive media campaign that has become a model for others. And since we’re living in a digital age, it is worth making the point that short-form PSAs work particularly well on mobile TV and online.

If you’d like to see our inventory or would like to join the GMAI, our pro-social programming coordinator, Sara Piot, would be happy to talk with you.