Co. enlists public-service army

NEW YORK — A new army, bristling with gung-ho firepower, has joined the war against AIDS.

Viacom Inc. will pour more resources into the AIDS battle than for any other public-service push in its history, enlisting, among others, CBS, UPN, all of its cable networks (led by MTV and Nickelodeon), all 180 of its Infinity radio stations, Blockbuster retail stores and a forest of billboards across the U.S.

For 2003 alone, Viacom plans to unleash a blizzard of spots across these platforms that will be worth $120 million. In conjunction with the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, Viacom will produce a number of AIDS-related spots, some for a general audience and others targeting specific groups such as teens, gay men and lesbians, minorities and women.

Led by Sumner Redstone, chairman-CEO of Viacom, and Mel Karmazin, president and chief operating officer, Viacom has organized meetings with producers of primetime scripted series to try to incorporate safe-sex messages into one or more of the episodes. Series owned by Viacom include “Frasier,” “Enterprise,” “The District,” “Queer as Folk” and “Girlfriends.”

Viacom’s syndicated TV shows also will get marching orders to be aware of the anti-AIDS campaign. These include “Oprah,” “Wheel of Fortune,” “Dr. Phil,” “Judge Judy,” “Jeopardy!” and “Entertainment Tonight.”

Karmazin said: “As the largest collection of ad platforms in the industry and a leading creator of entertainment and information, Viacom is uniquely suited to get the word out.”

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