Saturday, July 11, 2009
AEG Teaches BET "How to be an Entertainment Company" 101
After watching the coverage of Michael Jackson, I noticed many similarities and differences between the AEG and BET televised events. Both are companies that are in the business of staging concerts, television productions and are part of larger conglomerates. BET targets African-American between the ages 18-34 as their marketing base. AEG developed and operates the $150 million official U.S. Olympic Training Facility.
AEG, which was heavily invested in the Michael Jackson upcoming tour, is part of AEG Live. The AEG brand includes managing sport arenas around the world, merchandising, and corporate sponsorship and marketing. BET is part of Viacom which includes VH1, MTV, Nickelodeon, CMT and Comedy Central to name a few. Anyone in the entertainment industry would recognize the power of three short letters, BET or AEG, which employ thousands. That would include camera operators, sound engineers, set designers, travel agents and key board operators. Both entities have contact to talented artists worldwide and can sermon them at a moment’s notice.
AEG’s commitment to excellence was evident in the production of MJ’s home going ceremony. From the details of the printed program to the orchestrated performances of the stars, their desire to ensure MJ’s messages of empowerment, hope, humanitarian endeavors, and his musical genius were reflected in every facet of the production. As I have said previously, how a show starts usually determines how it will end. With the opening song “Going to see the King”, you knew the program would have a spiritual connotation despite the fact an entertainment company was in charge. The attention to details was impeccable. His coordinated brothers were his pall bearers who wore his signature glove. It reminded us that MJ started his musical journey with his brothers. They honored MJ’s independence from the group, by wearing his coveted trademark with loving pride. That symbolic touch was the start of a service that remained elegant from beginning to the end.
BET repeated excuse that it only had a few days to prepare a ‘tribute’ revealed their commitment to mediocrity and throwing things together at the last minute. Their justification for the lack of quality and care gave life to the word “ghetto”. The artistry of the talent on the stages gave you a glimpse of how the two brands view themselves. AEG understood that the eyes of the world were on them and how it managed this program was an investment in how they will be perceived by everyone. BET was the first to honor MJ’s legacy but did not understand the significance of the world’s penetrating glare. The program was marketed as a tribute to MJ but they were not able to turn off their usual misogynistic, sexist, and degrading antics of its own people to realize the social responsibility that was expected of them by fans from around the world to honor MJ’s legacy. BET also misjudged its community and the power of the internet, via blogs and Twitter, to do what others have not been able to accomplish for years, shame them for their programming.
There are many actors and actresses in black community but only a few have won Oscars. Both AEG and BET had African-American Oscar Winners, Jamie Fox and Jennifer Hudson, on their stages. Jamie and Jennifer are musical prodigies but Jennifer used her voice to echo MJ’s talent and Jamie used his voice to mock MJ. Funny stories were shared by many close to MJ at AEG’s event; their stories were heartfelt and respectful. Absence was the buffoonery that Jamie exhibited at BET.
AEG included various artists from Motown, which was part of MJ’s history as well as a strong influence in the black community. BET had access to Motown executives and artists also. They have honored Diana Ross, Barry Gordy, and Quincy Jones in recent years. I remember Miss Ross admonishing the audience to respect each other with their lyrics and dances. Both companies had athletes on stage. AEG athletes, Kobe and Magic, shared firsthand stories about MJ that made everyone laugh. BET’s Athlete of the Year, LeBron James, was booed by the audience. No public apology was issued to LeBron James or his legions of fans watching. AEG used their arsenal of contacts for the greater good and used MJ’s music to unite the world. In contrast, BET does not understand the value of maintaining healthy community and artistic relationships from different genres, musical eras, and backgrounds.
Each song that was performed at the memorial highlighted MJ’s legacy. His songs were the heart of the service. The songs that were not his songs, like Smile, were song because they were meaningful to him and touched MJ in a special way. The song “Every Girl” included in BET’s show and sung by baby maker, Lil Wayne, seems an odd choice whether you are a fan of MJ or not. It’s hard to believe Lil Wayne cared about a tribute to MJ. But on the other hand, Usher’s performance was loving and unforgettable. Not only did he move the audience emotionally with his presentation, but you knew his tearful tribute was from the heart. In fact, when I listened to BET’s replay, the tribute was riddled with profanity, plugs for new releases, concerts appearances, and various BET “products”, i.e. reality shows, that will do more harm than good to its demographics.
There was no stage or casket sponsorship with AEG. But BET’s sponsors were mentioned every few minutes. Jennifer Hudson, who wore a modest white dress, did not leave us questioning her attire. Whereas Beyonce’s white outfit, left many bewildered. Both women had others on stage with them, but the additional people on the stage with Jennifer were the chorus who gave you a visual that MJ’s songs reflected his admiration of diversity and international inclusion. Beyonce’s extras on stage were part of her costume change that emphasize her “showmanship” not MJ’s words that tells us, “In the promise of another tomorrow, I'll never let you part for you're always in my heart”. AEG even muzzled Joe Jackson and did not prominently showcase him or his coonery. BET gave him a world stage that left us all wondering why in God’s name would anyone give him a mic or MJ’s children.
AEG gave an emphasis to Michael Jackson’s childlike heart in many respects and ended their memorable tribute with children singing his words, with smiles and joyful hearts that radiated from the stage. The last words spoken regarding the greatest entertainer in the world was an unexpected announcement from his daughter that her “Daddy was the greatest father in the world”. It left critics speechless and moved the rest of the world to tears.
On the other hand, BET’s children who were on stage left me speechless and in tears but for reasons that has been addressed by thousands of angry emails and tweets to Debra Lee.
In the end, AEG showed us it was not about Michael Jackson, but the mark he left on the world. They managed to show that in spite of the years of suspicion, two trials and media debauchery, he made contributions that cannot be argued or denied. His monetary gifts of 300 million to global agencies have touched thousands of lives but his songs will live “forever, and forever, and forever”. BET showed us that it was all about them, and they shot themselves in the foot. They drew attention to everything that is wrong with BET’s brand and why it hurts the black community on a wide-reaching stage. The stereotypes of the African- American community, that many fight every day, were front and center.
AEG will make millions from the reproduction of ceremony and the memorabilia copyrights. They invested in MJ’s ceremony and made their name a household brand. Their stock will increase and they will become known as the entertainment company for quality production events. BET made a few thousands and proved why they are becoming irrelevant in the entertainment community. They will be forever and forever and forever remembered for their failed attempt to honor an African-American musical intellectual that transcended race, religion, and politics. They did not take the time to view the long term value of honoring MJ right the first time, even on a smaller scale. The lessons AEG showed us by their actions should be a life lesson for everyone not only BET; the value of your brand is reflective of the standards you set.
Photo Credit: MTV, NBC, www.realtalkNY.net