REINVIGORATED PRODUCTION FIRM FOCUSES ON URBAN M&V

Heritage Media Group to Open New Orleans Facility

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LOS ANGELES -- Heritage Media Group, the producer of Vibe magazine's Weekend Vibe TV show, is opening a new facility in New Orleans to produce branded-entertainment properties for the urban market that will include TV programming, commercials, music videos, films and other projects.
HMG's 'Weekend Vibe' is in its third year of syndication across the country.



HMG is a New York-based corporation that earlier this month announced it had the backing of the New Orleans First Bank and Trust to acquire out of bankruptcy Heritage Networks, the former producer of Weekend Vibe and other syndicated TV properties. Heritage Networks filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in January 2004.

Sole focus on ethnic audience

The latest move makes HMG one of the few companies solely focused on ethnically oriented branded-entertainment production, and one of the only ones so comprehensively focused on TV programming for that market.

“HMG’s relaunch created the platform for a new urban entertainment and media company that, as the convergence of advertising and entertainment grows, can lead the integration of brands into urban entertainment that will reach today’s multiethnic audience,” said the company's vice chairman and president-CEO, Charles Walker.

The company's 3-year-old Weekend Vibe property has previously integrated Ford Motor Co. and McDonald's Corp. into its programming. It also syndicates about 20 urban-themed movies a year, with a package of classics that skews to women aged 25 to 44 and a set of contemporary films that aim at 18- to 44-year-olds.

Poker-based TV project

The first new project HMG has in the works as it moves forward is a poker-based branded entertainment called Hip Hop Hold 'Em, Mr. Walker said.

Mr. Walker was previously founder of the popular urban-targeted shopping and lifestyle Web site Hookt.com, which drew sponsors such as Intel, Lugz, Burger King, Phat Farm and K-Swiss.

No brand partners have been signed for Hip Hop Hold 'Em, Mr. Walker said, but syndication deals have already been signed to air the series in Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles, New Orleans, New York and Philadelphia. Show production is slated to start in several weeks.

“Authenticity of the content is the most important part," Mr. Walker said. “You can’t serve up a 60-minute commercial to this audience."

Talks are ongoing with unnamed advertisers about potential buys of in-show signage on the card tables and product placement around the set. Marketers are expected to activate their sponsorships off-channel, with consumer promotions. The producers behind the World Poker Tour have done similar brand integrations, which is now the norm in unscripted cable, network and syndicated shows.

Sports marketing powerhouse

HMG has partnered with sports marketing powerhouse IMG to produce Hip Hop Hold ‘Em, Mr. Walker said. IMG has among its stable some of today's most prominent African-American stars, including golf superstar Tiger Woods and model/actress Tyra Banks.

The one-hour series, to be produced with IMG’s subsidiary Trans World International and independent producer Emerge Entertainment, will feature celebrities, models, actors and sports stars in a sort of MTV Cribs meets World Poker Tour meets Dinner for Five.

The show's setting is different from existing poker shows on TV, which stage their programs in Las Vegas or other casino venues. Hip Hop Hold 'Em will feature a celebrity hosting a game in his or her home and inviting friends to the table. They’ll play Texas Hold ‘Em, a game that’s now wildly popular from home parties to casinos.

The show will closely follow the card game, but also will revolve around the characters at the table, their banter and their relationship with one another.

Mass audience to niche audience

Stacey Lynn Koerner, executive vice president and director of global research integration at Initiative, said marketers have gravitated to mass-targeted shows such as Fox’s American Idol and NBC’s The Apprentice, but noted that well-produced niche-targeted content could “exponentially increase the impact” of a brand message.

“You trade a mass audience for a niche audience, but we’re moving out of a mass world and into a more targeted one, anyway,” Ms. Koerner said. “What you’d give up in numbers you’d get back in impact.”

The goal of branded entertainment, Ms. Koerner said, is to create content that can wrap around a brand. If that marketer wants to speak to a multicultural target, it would be more efficient and effective to integrate into content that’s designed for that consumer segment.

“If it’s the right marketer, and if the producers can create the right environment, then that’s golden,” Ms. Koerner said.
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