Essence Music Festival Hitting Right Notes For Cable Nets

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The 17th annual Essence Music Festival will have a decidedly cable flavor as several networks will look to build brand awareness among the more than 500,000 mostly African-American women expected to flock to New Orleans this weekend for the popular event.

Networks such as Black Entertainment Television, VH1, TV One, WE TV, TNT and TBS will showcase their programming talent during the July 1-3 event, which will feature as its main attraction live musical performances from such top acts as Usher, Jennifer Hudson, Fantasia, Boyz II Men, Kanye West, Jill Scott, Chaka Kahn, New Edition and Mary J. Blige.

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With African Americans watching more television than any other ethnic group and with African-American buying power expected to reach $1.2 trillion by 2013, executives say the festival provides an opportunity to reach an important audience segment. Cable networks will give festival attendees a chance to meet and greet talent from their respective shows via booth visits and panel discussions.

“At the festival people get to come real close to celebrities and get autographs signed by them … it’s a great event for our talent as well as for the people that attend,” said Johnathan Rodgers, CEO of TV One, which will tape portions of the festival to air on the African-American targeted network in August.

WE TV, which has participated in the festival since 2009, will feature the starts of reality series Braxton Family Values as part of its Festival presence. Rosie Pisani, WE’s senior vice president of marketing, said the festival provides opportunities to connect with its growing African American female audience.

“With the recent success of [original reality series] Braxton FamilyValues and [Sinbad: It’s Just Family] We TV’s  programming is really resonating with the audience, so it’s another opportunity to be out there and connect with the African-American viewer,” said Pisani. The network will also feature the network’s newest on-air personality and wedding planner Diann Valentine, who will  give attendees a sneak peek of the network’s new series I Do Over premiering next month.

Turner will bring more than 12 TBS and TNT performers to its fifth appearance at the Essence Music Festival, including Garcelle Beauvais (TNT’s Franklin & Bash), Aldis Hodge (TNT’s Leverage,) Keshia Knight Pulliam and Lance Gross (TBS’ Tyler Perry’s House of Payne) and Terry Crews and Essence Atkins (TBS’ Are We There Yet?).

The company will also offer attendees an “All Access” promotional experience ranging from TNT and TBS signage at the New Orleans airport to social media activities at its dedicated festival website, where online users can participate in live stream Q&A sessions with talent appearing at the event.

“It’s an incredibly passionate and loyal group that come to the festival every year,” said Tricia Melton, senior vice president of entertainment marketing for TBS, TNT and Turner Classic Movies. “It gives an opportunity for both TNT and TBS to make their brands incredibly relevant; to showcase the breadth and depth of talent that we believe appeals to this audience and fan base; and to allow us to create really sustainable connections with this audience.”

Executives say the Essence Music Festival will continue to attract cable networks in the years to come as more cable networks look to reach African American viewers.

“Other cable networks have started to notice the Essence Music Festival, particularly as the African American audience has become more important to them,” said Nigel Cox-Hagan, VH1’s executive vice president of creative and marketing. The network will mark its fourth year at the festival by showcasing the cast of its reality series Basketball Wives, who will among other things participate in a round-table discussion on images within reality television.

“We feel that that’s really important that our fans get to interact and have an authentic experience with the stars of our show and we’re delighted with that opportunity,” Cox-Hagan added.