Time Inc.’s Essence Festival to Stream 100-Plus Hours of Video from New Orleans

Time Inc.’s Essence magazine will effectively turn into a 24-hour TV network for four days over the July 4th weekend — with plans to stream more than 100 hours of free online video from the 2015 Essence Festival in New Orleans.

The 21st annual fest, which runs July 2-5, will feature a host of entertainment stars, African-American leaders and more. The Internet-video lineup will include live music performances, panel discussions and news coverage across Essence.com, EssenceFestival.com, YouTube, Time.com, EW.com and other sites. Video highlights will be available through dedicated Essence Festival apps for iOS and Android.

All told, the company is nearly tripling the amount of Internet video it’s providing over last year’s event. It will live-stream about 27 hours from the 2015 Essence Festival, up from 10 hours in 2014. In addition, the daytime “All-Star Gospel Tribute” on Sunday, July 5, is sponsored by Walmart and also will be streamed on Walmart.com.

“We just kept adding programming,” said Michelle Ebanks, president of Essence Communications and People en Español. “Our goal was to curate as much of the rich programming as we could.”

Video sponsors for the event, in addition to Walmart, include Verizon, Ford and Samsung. J.R. McCabe, Time Inc.’s senior VP of video, said one of the main goals of upping the online-video tonnage from Essence Festival was to tap into advertisers’ TV budgets.

“We’re trying to offer advertisers opportunities they wouldn’t have before with our brand — the opportunity is to share-shift money out of TV budgets.” He added, “Plus, we want to be there where the consumer is.”

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As part of the lineup, the mag’s “Essence Live” weekly entertainment and pop culture talk show, sponsored by Samsung, will stream a one-hour special each day (expanded from its usual 30 minutes) from the floor of the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center.

On each night of the Essence Festival, select musical performances will be live-streamed from one of the five stages at New Orleans’ Superdome. Those are scheduled to include Nico & Vinz, Chrisette Michele, Kindred the Family Soul, Bilal, Esperanza Spalding, Kelly Price, Omarion and Eric Roberson. Live coverage also is slated to include panel discussions with and speeches by Common, Deepak Chopra, Iyanla Vanzant, Steve Harvey, Rev. Al Sharpton and others.

As for whether the 100-plus hours of free Internet video will cut into ticket sales for Essence Festival, Ebanks said, “We’re absolutely aware of that,” noting that only a few musical performances will be streaming from the Superdome. Tickets to the fest’s evening sessions start at $50; the daytime sessions are free.

Ebanks said more than 550,000 people attended the 2014 Essence Festival. This year’s program is to include more than 60 artists performing and 130 speakers.

The company did not provide video-consumption stats from the 2014 fest, but said video viewing during Essence Festival last year was 20 times higher than Essence.com’s normal daily average.

For Time Inc. overall, live programming is a growing and key part of the video strategy. The publisher’s live shows include the daily “SI Now,” sponsored by Ford, and “People Now,” presented by Toyota.

The 2015 Essence Festival is executive produced by Time Inc.’s Essence Communications and produced by Solomon Group.

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