| LOS ANGELES
LOS ANGELES Singer Beyonce will kick off the first BET three-day music festival on Friday, ahead of the BET awards this weekend, as the network hopes to attract more fans to music and comedy by black artists.
The annual BET awards, now in its 13th year, celebrate black musicians, actors and athletes across a variety of categories spanning music, film and sport. It is televised on the cable TV network BET, Black Entertainment Television, part of Viacom Inc.
The BET Experience is the first weekend music festival to be hosted by a television network, BET said in a statement.
Stephen Hill, president of music programming and special events at BET Networks, said the music festival aims to give fans a more inclusive experience.
"What we noticed through the years was that people would come out. They had tickets to the awards and they'd come for the weekend ... and people came just to be in the atmosphere of the awards, even if they didn't have tickets," Hill said.
Male artists lead this year's BET awards nominees with R&B singer Drake landing 12 nominations, followed by rappers Kendrick Lamar and 2 Chainz with eight nominations each, and rapper A$AP Rocky with five.
Rapper Jay Z, singer Justin Timberlake and R&B crooner Miguel picked up four nominations each, while Rihanna led the female artists with three nominations. Beyonce and Nicki Minaj scored one nod each.
Film nominees include Jaden Smith, Oscar-nominated newcomer Quvenzhane Wallis, Jamie Foxx, Samuel L. Jackson, Halle Berry and Kerry Washington.
Olympic gymnast Gabrielle Douglas, tennis stars Serena and Venus Williams, and basketball star Kevin Durant are among the sports nominees.
Ahead of Sunday's awards ceremony in downtown Los Angeles, the network will host numerous events at the L.A. Live collection of venues ranging from small clubs holding a few hundred people to the Nokia Theater, which can host an audience of more than 2,000.
BET said it is expecting about 100,000 people to attend events during the festival, which will include film screenings, comedy concerts, celebrity appearances and musical performances.
Snoop Dogg, Miguel, Kendrick Lamar and J. Cole are among the top-billed performers at the BET Experience. Tickets start at $49 for individual performances to almost $4,000 for an all-access package.
Hill said he hopes the variety of artists and performances will entice fans.
"People have encouraged other people to sample more music from different genres, different eras. Festivals are catered to that," Hill said.
(Reporting by Piya Sinha-Roy; Editing by Patricia Reaney and Lisa Shumaker)