Sunday, September 19, 2021

BET Experience’s Better Days Behind it? Competition Clouds Event’s Future

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*According to an article in the LA Times by writer Garrick Kennedy, the BET Experience, after being birthed six years ago, is not the all-that experience it once was and it’s future … at least in LA is looking so-so.

Anchored around the downtown hot spot, L.A. Live, the multi-day event – now also referred to as BETX – offers packaged arena shows, late-night performances, seminars, celebrity panels and more around BET’s annual awards show telecast. The festival, which drew 165,000 last year, started Thursday and goes through Sunday.

The network wanted to expand its popular BET Awards and brand a music experience that could give the Essence Music Festival a run for its money — a tall order, considering that that festival draws 500,000 music fans to New Orleans each year. BETX also provided an opportunity to tap into the Southern California market that lacked festivals catering to hip-hop and R&B fans after the shuttering of Rock the Bells and Paid Dues.

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BET partnered with AEG, along with its promoter Goldenvoice, to produce the event. This is the final year of a contract renewal reached in 2015 and it remains unclear what plans are moving forward, particularly as Goldenvoice continues to mount smaller, specialized R&B/hip-hop festivals like Tyler, the Creator’s quirky Camp Flog Gnaw Carnival, Smokin’ Grooves and the upcoming Summertime in the LBC.

The article points out that BETX’s appeal lies wholly in providing an immersive companion to the BET Awards, one of the few shows of its caliber in which black entertainers take center stage. Although access to the award show comes with a hefty price tag (packages run between $1,095 and $4,500) fans are able to feel a part of the action by attending the concerts — some acts do double duty by performing at both the award show and the festival — or rub shoulders with black entertainers at the expo without breaking the bank, as individual tickets are sold at affordable price points.

But there’s little buzz around this year’s BET Awards. The line-up for the telecast lacks the kind of star power viewers have come to expect. And that lack of excitement extends to the festival.

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In previous years, room was made for veteran R&B and rap artists paired with the young acts pushing the genre forward. No other festival would place New Edition and the Jacksons atop its bill, offer Snoop Dogg a standing invitation to return every year, allow the Roots to fete yesteryear hip-hop until early morning or serve as a launch for Beyoncé’s world tour.

This year’s bill pales in comparison to past lineups as well as other festivals focused on R&B and hip-hop. It largely skewers toward younger fans, which is understandable, as organizers are clearly looking to reflect the tastes of an audience streaming hip-hop and R&B; artists from the genres have put out albums that have sat at No. 1 for 15 weeks so far this year and dominate streaming charts (the top 50 songs being played on Apple Music now are hip-hop or some form of R&B).

You get the idea. It seems the BETX has run out of juice for whatever reason. Could it have something to do with other events, such as the recent Smokin’ Grooves festival that offered a highly curated, one-of-a-kind experience. We’re talking alternative R&B and hip-hop — Erykah Badu, Miguel, the Roots, Jhené Aiko and H.E.R. as major draws. Or is the BETX missing the creative-ness of the two people who guided its initial success, but are no longer with the entertainment outlet, Debra Lee and Stephen Hill?

And while you ponder that thought, check out the rest of Garrick Kennedy’s expose on the BET Experience at LA Times.

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