Viacom Suspended Programming For 17 Minutes In Support Of The National School Walkout — VIDEO

Ross Taylor/Getty Images News/Getty Images; Viacom/Twitter

The gun debate is a contentious issue nationwide, but that hasn't stopped some powerful brands from backing the students who are pushing for new legislation. On Wednesday, Viacom's networks, including MTV, BET, and Nickelodeon, suspended programming to support the National School Walkout , showing they're on the side of the students. Tuning into any of the Viacom Media Networks properties around 10 a.m. EST on March 14 would have yielded not the usual programming, but instead, a message of solidarity. Viacom posted to Twitter,

"Viacom is standing with all students as they participate in the #NationalSchoolWalkout against Gun Violence. From 10:00-10:17am, our networks will be going dark in solidarity to support the reach and impact of their activism."

According to Vox, broadcasting was stopped across every single one of Viacom's channels for 17 minutes, to honor the 17 students killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Feb. 14. In addition to the channels mentioned above, Nick Jr., TV Land, CMT, Logo, Paramount, VH1, and Comedy Central were all off the air. It's a sacrifice of precious and costly advertising time, and a message that likely reached viewers spanning multiple generations, locations, and demographics, whose politics could easily land them on either side of the issue.

Instead of their usual programming, the Viacom networks carried messages of support. MTV took a similar but more personal tactic, spending their off-air time honoring those trailblazing students who are at the forefront of this surge in activism:

"The next 17 minutes are dedicated to young people who are leading the fight against gun violence. Right now, students everywhere are walking out of school to take a stand against gun violence. We stand with them."

Each student's photo appeared, along with a brief bio explaining who they were and why the cause was so important to them. Many have lost friends or family members, or were witness to devastating and unnecessary violence. And as their photos and personal details played out across the screen in the minutes surrounding 10 a.m., young people were living that same message nationwide as they left their desks and filed outside.

The National School Walkout was dreamed up in the days after the Valentine's Day attack, as Douglas students called to their peers nationwide, asking them to stage a walkout a month to the day after the massacre. The goal in abandoning their classrooms was to peacefully make their voices heard, encouraging new gun control measures in the hope that the United States will never have to grapple with another school shooting.

Ross Taylor/Getty Images News/Getty Images

Millions of students answered that call, but the reaction has been far from universally positive. Some adults have criticized the younger generation for politicizing a tragedy, and some schools have threatened reprisals for students staging a walkout. Students have had to weigh their activism, their desire for safety, and their belief in the ability of minds and laws to change against the demands of a generation less affected by the violence.

The polarizing nature of the issue makes Viacom's gesture all the more meaningful. They're putting their reputation and their viewership on the line to support not only the walkout, but the fight against gun violence at large. Adjusting 17 minutes of programming might not sound like a big deal, but across every Viacom network, this is monumental. Some companies have been hesitant to join the conversation, such as FedEx, for example, which has resisted pressure to drop ties with the NRA.

Even in the face of criticism, even as other companies have bowed to public outcry, they have stood firm. And now, there's even a starker contrast to hold them up against. Viacom has set the bar for brands showing that they have these students' backs — now it's up to the rest of the nation to decide whether to follow suit.