Byron Allen Asks FCC to Vet Comcast-NBCU Condition

Byron Allen's Entertainment Studios, Inc. (ESI) and The National Association of African American-Owned Media (NAAAOM) took the latest shot in its ongoing battle with Comcast over carriage of minority-owned and targeted networks.

That came in the form of a petition to the FCC asking it to investigate what they called Comcast's "failed" promise, codified in a condition of the merger with NBC Universal, to add majority-controlled African American-owned media networks.

They want the FCC to do a critical and detailed investigation into Comcast's claims of compliance, suggesting the conclusion will be that Comcast had not and that it will impose "penalties commensurate with the seriousness of its misconduct."

The petition takes aim at the nets Comcast has added, saying the company has not supplied sufficient information to determine whether they are indeed majority owned and controlled, and suggesting they are not. ESI also claims Comcast never negotiated in good faith for its content.

The two networks Comcast added per the initial part of its condition were Aspire and Revolt. ESI was passed over, but the petition says that move was inexplicable, saying that while ESI meets the criteria for an independent, minority-owned net, the other two do not.

The main point they are trying to make is that white-owned network programming contracts need to be publicly reviewed. They say that while Comcast is spending $10 billion per year on licensing cable nets, Magic Johnson's Aspire does not receive licensing fees from Comcast, which ESI says is discriminatory.

“As the majority owner of ASPiRE, it’s unfortunate that NAAAOM has made these derogatory and inflammatory comments about my network, ASPiRE,”  Earvin “Magic” Johnson, chairman and CEO, told Multichannel News.  “We, my executive board and ASPiRE staff, are grateful for Comcast and their outstanding committee that has made a way for African American owners to do business in television.  They have provided opportunities for ASPiRE to showcase positive images and authentic portrayals of African Americans and urban culture. I am proud of my network and will continue to use my platform and influence to advance the community.”

It also takes aim at what it says is the FCC's failure to enforce the memorandum of understanding (MOU) requiring addition of the networks and says Commission Mignon Clyburn should be "leading the charge" on that oversight, given that she had said when the merger was approved that she would be “watching closely with my large megaphone in my hand.”

Allen wants the FCC to:

a) "Investigate the extent to which Comcast has failed to comply with materially significant conditions imposed upon it by the FCC.

b) "Require Comcast to take immediate corrective measures, subject to rigorous, continuous, and ongoing FCC oversight to ensure future compliance with those conditions.

c)  "Impose such sanctions as may be warranted, including both monetary forfeitures and/or revocation and/or non-renewal of licenses, for Comcast’s flagrant violations of those conditions to date."

"The time has come for the FCC and President Obama to correct this empty MOU charade, investigate the ownership and management structures of networks launched under the MOU, and advance economic inclusion for 100% African American-owned media," said Allen in a statement.

“Since NAAAOM’s frivolous lawsuit has gone nowhere, it is now trying the same string of inflammatory, inaccurate, and unsupported allegations before the FCC," Comcast said in a statement. "Just as a court has already once dismissed their court case having found no plausible claim for relief, we believe this complaint is also completely without merit and will defend vigorously ourselves.

"Comcast is proud of our outstanding record supporting and fostering diverse programming, including programming from African American owned and controlled cable channels.   We currently carry more than 100 networks geared toward diverse audiences, including multiple networks owned or controlled by minorities.”

The petition comes against a backdrop of an FCC investigation more broadly into access by independent and diverse programmers to distribution platforms.

Allen and NAAAOM filed a $20 billion lawsuit against and others over noncarriage of his 100% African American owned network last year. (The story initially said that suit had been dismissed, but the case was reopened last August and is awaiting a decision in Los Angeles federal court.) He has also recently filed a $10 billion suit against Charter, which was in the midst of an FCC merger review, for not carrying the network.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.