Essence magazine celebrates its 50th anniversary this year by expanding its brand into television programming in an effort to better serve its target audience of Black women.

Essence Ventures, which owns Essence, last month teamed with OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network to launch a five-part documentary series, Time of Essence, which spotlights the magazine’s influence on Black culture over the past five decades. The OWN series, which airs its penultimate episode Friday (September 8), features interviews and perspectives from stars like Winfrey, Halle Berry, Whoopi Goldberg, and Sheryl Lee Ralph.

Essence's Stephanie Dunivan

Stephanie Dunivan (Image credit: Essence )

Time of Essence comes on the heels of Essence’s partnership with streaming service Hulu in July for live, three-day coverage of the annual Essence Festival of Culture, featuring performances from musicians such as Lauryn Hill, Missy Elliott and Megan Thee Stallion. 

Spearheading Essence’s move into television and streaming is VP of experiential branded content and video Stephanie Dunivan, who joined the brand in 2017 after previous stints at BET and Inside Edition. Dunivan talked about the evolution of Essence’s television strategy with Multichannel News. Here’s a lightly edited version of that conversation. 

MCN: Essence has had a long and successful run as a print magazine. Why was it important for the company to transition to television?

Stephanie Dunivan: Actually, Essence has been in the television space over the years. For Time of Essence, the great partnership Essence has with OWN to tell the story of Essence’s 50-year legacy was just a natural fit. With a brand like Essence, people feel a lot of ownership of the brand because it’s been a companion piece across many of our lives, especially if you’re a black woman. So now, to be able to tell this story in this way and peel back the curtain to let people know all the things that it took to keep the last black-owned magazine standing on stands to this day really makes for great TV.

MCN: What do you hope viewers take away from the series once it’s completed? 

SD: I think that there is going to be a moment or a story of resilience or perseverance — whether personal or about the business — where people will see themselves. I just think that people are going to have even more of an affinity to the brand if they didn’t before, just knowing what it took to keep it around. 

MCN: Earlier this summer, you oversaw the production of Essence Fest Primetime on Hulu. How well was that received, and will you look to continue to develop content around the Essence Festival of Culture in the future? 

SD: That was our second year doing the telecast — being able to bring the Essence Festival to the masses with Essence Fest Primetime was really great. We are already brainstorming on how to make that bigger and better for our 30th birthday party next year. I actually came from  BET and I produced a show called 106 & Park, so live television is definitely a passion of mine and something that we do really well here at Essence with our Black Women in Hollywood event as well as Essence Fest Primetime.  We definitely plan to do more of that in the future. 

MCN: Who is the target audience for content like Time of Essence or Essence Fest Primetime: an older female viewer who grew up with Essence magazine or a younger viewer who may not be familiar with the brand? 

SD: The shows are multigenerational. With Time of Essence, there are going to be people who grew up with Essence for the past 50 years that look at it as a tool to reminisce and remember this or that cover. There are also going to be people that are my age who really look at it as a tool for inspiration. I’ve heard a lot of feedback from Gen Z and younger people who talk about their appreciation for the evolution of what this magazine has been and what it will be for the next 50 years. So just like the Essence Festival and anything that we produce, we are producing it for her, no matter what the demographic is, what the household income is, what her personal style is, what the age is.