Story and photos by Anne Marie DiNardo (G ’00)
On a crisp September morning, Georgetown alumni gathered at the TV One office in Silver Spring for GEMA’s breakfast series. Messai Gessesse, L’01, graciously took time out of his busy schedule to share his insights on legal aspects of the television industry and his Georgetown education.
Gathered in the conference room eating bagels, attendees who graduated with varying Georgetown University degrees sat engaged as Messai introduced us to the world of television. TV One is a 6-year-old cable/satellite television network which provides programming primarily to African American adults.
TV One offers a broad range of lifestyle and entertainment-oriented programming that respects their values and reflects their intellectual and cultural diversity. Messai explained that he joined TV One after working as a lawyer in the sports industry for six years.
The switch to television was not a major transition since both positions focused on the world of entertainment. Instead of going to a big law firm after graduation, he followed his passion for sports by interning for the SFX Basketball Group and landed a job there which led him to the Strickland Management Group where he represented NBA clients.
As a new cable network, TV One provides Messai with the opportunity to shape the organization much like a start up. As part of a legal team of three, his job focuses on drafting production and service agreements, negotiating talent contracts, and assisting with operational matters such as office space leasing and software agreements. The emergence of the digital space has provided a challenging opportunity for legal negotiation. According to Messai, the word television is a misnomer and content is the product because programming can be accessed via PDA’s, phones, computers and other devices to be developed.
TV One is now moving to providing on-demand content to compete so customers can get the content anywhere and anytime. Since streaming on the Internet has become easy and pervasive, TV One must keep track of individuals or organizations who are making its content available online without permission in order to protect its own brand and business, as well as that of its business partners.
TV One is a venture of Radio One, Inc., which primarily targets African American and urban listeners, Comcast Corporation, DirecTV, and several other financial investors. Messai explains that although the programming is targeted at African Americans, the demographic is made up of a growing audience of diverse viewers. Their public relations strategy utilizes grassroots efforts to gain support of minority and non-minority groups to encourage cable operators to carry the programming. It is these relationships with investors, cable operators and viewers that are key to ensuring the business thrives and is successful.
Messai credits his education to being an important factor in his success for several reasons – learning to think analytically, issue spot and problem solve. In addition to these skill-sets, he is a firm believer in networking and building relationships, especially since who you know is as, if not more, important than what you know.