Channel Changer Channel Changer
Issue 003

Channel Changer

by Ken Lee Timothy Greenfield-Sanders

February 16, 2007

Ian Rowe is kick-starting the potential of the TRL crowd.

MTV isn't just about beach-town booty fests, opulent sweet sixteens, or raps about yachts and Cristal: As head of the Think MTV initiative, Ian Rowe, 42, ensures that critical issues like global warming, sexual health, and racial discrimination are not lost amid the bling.He is, in short, the conscience of MTV."Every generation has inherited a world they're unsatisfied with and want to change for the better," says Rowe, who joined the network in 2004 to lead MTV's "Choose or Lose" campaign, which helped motivate nearly 22 million youths to vote in the last presidential election. Riding that momentum, Rowe and his staff launched Think MTV in May 2005. "After the elections, our viewers were telling us they still wanted to take action, to be engaged," Rowe says. "We realized we could be the loudspeaker."Partnering with everyone from Bill and Melinda Gates to Jay-Z, Think MTV creates on-air specials, sponsors events and contests, and offers a number of online resources to, as Rowe puts it, "push power down into the hands of young people to take action locally."
We realized we could be the loudspeaker.
It's an ethos that was instilled by his Jamaican immigrant parents. Born in London and raised in Queens, NY, Rowe graduated from Cornell as a computer-science major. But after six years at a consulting firm, he grew disillusioned: "Becoming senior partner wasn't the mark I wanted to leave in life," he says. "My personal imprint had to somehow incorporate solving injustice."At MTV, Rowe is getting results: In September, 2005, Think MTV aired The Diary of Angelina Jolie and Dr. Jeffrey Sachs in Africa, which featured a Kenyan village working its way out of poverty. Overwhelming viewer response helped fuel the development of Millennium Promise, an organization that supports poverty-stricken villages in Africa. Elsewhere, Think MTV promotes environmentally responsible lifestyles through its "Break the Addiction" anti-global warming campaign, encourages community service on spring break, and broadcasts HIV-awareness programs that have resulted in a significant rise in testing for the virus among viewers.The often contradictory messages of MTV (sex!/abstinence!, gangsta rap!/stop the violence!) aren't lost on Rowe. "Our audience isn't monolithic," he says. "Today's youth will watch a hip hop video, and still go to church on Sunday."MILLENNIUM PROMISE is a ChooseGOOD Partner.  GOOD founder Ben Goldhirsh is on the board.LEARN MORE
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