Ramping It Up

MTV viewers will soon find it much easier to get involved in the causes they care about, thanks to think. The new label, which will ride on pro-social programming, will connect viewers to information about issues and provide links to organizations where young people can volunteer to take action.

“think is our umbrella campaign for pro-social activities in 2005 and beyond,” said Van Toffler, president of MTV Networks Music Group. “It will live on multiple platforms — TV, the Internet and eventually wireless — and it's a way for our audience to get educated about pro-social issues and for them to take an active role in having an impact on them.”

think will launch in MTV's telecast of the documentary, I'm Still Here, which tells the powerful stories, in their own words, of young people who lived during the Holocaust. It is the latest manifestation of a long-running MTV commitment to pro-social programming that now extends throughout MTV Networks.

While public affairs campaigns, like the Emmy Award-winning MTV “Choose or Lose” and “Fight For Your Rights,” have urged viewers to get involved, MTV News has kept them informed, interviewing presidential candidates and covering issues of concern to young people. Additionally, over the last year, MTV News correspondent Gideon Yago has traveled to Iraq and Kuwait to file reports from the perspective of young American soldiers and young Iraqis, and he provided similar on-scene coverage, with fellow correspondent SuChin Pak, of the aftermath of December's South Asian tsunami.

MTV's pioneering reality show, The Real World, has featured young people dealing with AIDS, alcoholism, sexual identity and many other issues, while True Life, a documentary series, has gone-in-depth by focusing on young people struggling with obesity, addiction, abusive relationships, disabilities and self-esteem.

Pro-social programming came naturally to MTV, said Toffler, because its viewers are interested in the issues. “It's the nature of being young,” he said. “You are rebellious one minute, and civic- minded and caring about your brothers and sisters the next.”

A similar idea inspires VH1 Save the Music, the long-running campaign to restore and nurture music programming in disadvantaged schools. While it's been busy raising millions for music education, VH1 has also been expanding its pro-social commitment to include HIV/AIDS awareness. This fall, it will air the largest in a series of specials on the crisis, focusing on the devastation the virus has wrought in poor countries. VH1 Presents: Battling the Global AIDS Epidemic will feature musician India.Arie and actress Ashley Judd, volunteering with AIDS organizations in Kenya and Madagascar, respectively. The special, which highlights VH1's partnership with the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, is part of an ongoing effort to keep the AIDS crisis visible, and to connect viewers, through the Global Fund, with a way to help. “It was important for us to present a really actionable step our viewers could engage with, and this special will do that,” said VH1 president Christina Norman.

Actionable steps are central to CMT's new “One Country” pro-social campaign, which will encourage viewers to volunteer for their favorite causes and provide links to organizations that need help.

Launching this fall, it will highlight the contributions of charitable organizations, like Second Harvest, a food bank with many local chapters. Viewers will be able to go to CMT.com and type in their ZIP codes to bring up a list of area organizations in search of volunteers, said CMT's executive vice president and general manager, Brian Philips.

One Country's theme will also be reflected in a couple of new programs including CMT Home Blitz that will feature country music stars working with Habitat for Humanity to build homes for poor families. The One Country campaign addresses viewers' frustrations at their inability to cope with an overload of pressing national and world issues, Philips said, but also aims to use grassroots involvement to foster a sense of community. “Our hope is that One Country does its small part to do away with the notion of a divided America, “ he said.

While viewer concerns about issues have spawned many of the pro-social campaigns and programs airing on MTV Networks, one campaign, Spike TV's “Check Up or Check Out,” tackles a tendency among men to avoid an issue — their own health.

“Women go to the doctor for checkups ten times more than men do,” said Kevin Kay, executive vice president of programming and production at Spike TV. A too-high incidence of preventable ailments, like heart disease and prostate cancer, led Spike TV to focus on promoting medical checkups. Public service announcements offer the facts about men's health issues, while an elaborate Check Up or Check Out website offers information.

Spike TV is mulling ideas for a series that would reflect Check Up or Check Out's themes, and in the meantime, its documentary unit produces specials with a pro-social bent. True Dads, hosted by Bruce Willis, offered an emotional look at the rewards of fatherhood, and an upcoming film, Viva Baseball, will highlight the contributions of Latino baseball players.

Comedy Central may be considered a network designed to help viewers forget their problems, but that hasn't kept it from playing a highly visible pro-social role. Its Emmy and Peabody Award winning series, The Daily Show With Jon Stewart, has often been hailed for raising issues avoided by news organizations.

The Daily Show's impact became apparent most recently in an election year survey by the Annenberg Public Policy Center, which found Daily Show viewers knew more about campaign issues than national news viewers and newspaper readers.

From highlighting issues to promoting volunteerism and better health, pro-social programming plays a growing role in the programming suites at MTV Networks.