Commentary By Curtis Symonds When it comes to doing good things for people, this industry can stand with any. Cable in the Classroom may not have been the public relations home run that many envisioned it to be when it first rolled out, but if you’re wondering whether or not it has made a difference, go to just about any school district in the country and ask a librarian or media specialist what they think of it. Almost fifteen years after launching, Cable in the Classroom continues to quietly, yet steadily, enrich the lives of students and teachers everywhere. And over the years, networks like ESPN, the Weather Channel, Lifetime, Court TV, VH1 and others have launched initiatives that have helped or improved the plight of the sick, the poor, the young and the less fortunate among us. As I said, when it comes to pro-social initiatives, we’ve got nothing to be ashamed of. But of all the gifts we’ve given society, my favorite is still Cable Positive. At a time when AIDS looked like the exclusive concern of gays, drug users and sub-Saharan Africans-groups that have always been relegated to second-class status by many in Middle America-this industry came forward and made a difference. We saw that this disease impacted all mankind; much like attack on the World Trade Center was not just an attack on two buildings in lower Manhattan, but a challenge to Americans everywhere. And we put our money where our mouth is. We gave millions to fund research and did our best to increase awareness of the disease. But that’s part of the problem. For all we’ve done, we could be doing much more. The money we’ve raised has been great, but it is chump change compared to what’s out there. And while the awareness we’ve created is laudable, it’s just a ripple in the river of public consciousness. Here’s my problem: we have access to 90 million homes across America and every day many of them spend as much as 8 hours watching our programming. Why then have our fundraising and public information efforts seemed so insular to the industry? Why haven’t we brought cable’s customers on board in our quest to beat AIDS? When cable executives give to Cable Positive it’s a big deal when the total tops $1 million. But think about it: we have 90 million cable customers. If we could get just $1 from each of them, that’s $90 million. Or even if it was just 50 cents, that would still be $45 million for AIDS research. And how would we raise this money? By using our medium. One month a year, the cable industry should put a full court press on the public with one simple message: Give us one dollar and help us beat this disease. That’s not to say we shouldn’t still reach into our own pockets, but just like Tom Sawyer got his fence white-washed faster by convincing others that painting is fun, we need to spread the responsibility around. Great coaches win games, not because they can run faster or jump higher that the opposing coach. They win games because they teach and motivate others to run faster and jump higher than the other team. Last week it was announced that Steve Villano would serve on a jury to select some AIDS-themed programming concepts to go into development. Villano’s jury will meet at the MIP-TV conference in Cannes, and after that he will address a number of UN representatives on what our industry is doing to fight AIDS. That a great honor for a great guy, and I wish him the best. But it’s only a start. Let’s do something more. Symonds says, over the next twelve months let’s bring a few extra brushes out on the front porch and see if we can’t communicate to the American public the absolute joy of painting a white picket fence. Curtis Symonds can be reached at curtissymonds@yahoo.com.

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