Byron Allen: We Must Have Economic Inclusion for Black-Owned Media

Byron Allen photo
(Image credit: Byron Allen)

Entertainment Studios/Allen Media Group CEO Byron Allen says the entertainment industry has to become economic partners with Black-owned media, and he’s willing to do what it takes to make it happen.  

Allen, who served as the keynote speaker Tuesday at the Multichannel News CultureX Conversations conference, said he’s not happy with advertisers like General Motors whom he claims do not do enough business with Black-owned media companies including his own media conglomerate, which features a suite of cable networks including The Weather Channel and 16 “Big Four” broadcast affiliated stations in 12 markets. 

Read also: Cover Story: Byron Allen Wants to Save the World 

“I’ve already declared that I’m going to sue Coca-Cola and McDonald’s because they don’t do business with Black-owned media,” he said. “What I’ve said is we’re not going to fix this by talking about it -- we’re not going to fix this by having conversations -- we’re going to fix it  through action. I’ve made it very clear … If you have an ad budget, make sure a minimum of 2% of your ad budget should go to Black-owned media, because that will create opportunities, inclusion and jobs -- even foster creativity. It’ll make a stronger business for all of us and a better industry, community and country.”

The potential legal action against advertisers is similar to lawsuits totaling $40 billion that Allen filed against Comcast and Charter in 2015 for alleged racial discrimination after they refused to carry Allen’s suite of cable channels. While those lawsuits have since been settled, Allen said there’s still work to be done. 

“I wanted to say in a very loud and clear way that we must have economic inclusion for Black-owned media,” he said. “We can’t spend as an industry $70 billion dollars licensing cable networks and none of it goes to Black-owned media. We have a great relationship now with all of the MVPD’s, but it was a conversation that needed to be had, and I’m glad we had it.”

Allen’s advocacy for economic inclusion for Black media was born from his own fight to be successful despite racial obstacles he says he experienced throughout his life, from his early childhood days growing up in Detroit in the 1960s through his move to Los Angeles with his mother in the 1970s, which served as his introduction to the entertainment business. 

While his mother worked at NBC as an intern as she attended UCLA Film School, Allen said he began to see the opportunities for himself in the entertainment industry, particularly after sitting in the shadows watching the production of such shows as The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, Sanford and Son and Chico and the Man.

Allen began performing stand-up comedy at 14 and wrote for comedians such as Jimmy Walker, but said he soon realized the economic playing field was not level for everyone.  

“I found along the way that there were challenges. There were folks who felt like I should be paid a certain amount and that I should not be paid what my white counterparts were being paid … so I decided to learn the business side of show,” he said. 

Allen also spoke of another pivotal point in his career -- his friendship with legendary TV syndicator Roger King. After struggling to get stations to pick up his syndicated shows because he was a person of color, Allen said that King used his influence to get stations to do business with him. 

“I never had a problem having anyone return my phone calls again because of that -- you couldn’t be in business if Roger King didn’t allow you to be in business with his unbelievable  shows,” he said. “But it was unfortunate that he had to kick the door open, and then even after I started selling shows I realized there were a number of other issues. There was a big problem with racism in our industry and folks not leaning in and understanding how bad it is.” 

In particular Allen said his sales representatives experienced the industry’s bigotry first hand when negotiating with potential clients who were told that because Allen was Black, they would not do business with them. Despite the blatant racism, Allen encouraged his salespeople to continue to knock on those doors, just as he did when he started selling his shows.  

“I said to them that that’s not an excuse, that’s an obstacle,” he said. “You are going to have to go back and keep selling, and figure out a way to get around it. That resistance, that racism, is a part of my success.” 

Now Allen says he wants to make sure that his message of economic inclusion reaches the industry’s top executives so that others can succeed within the industry. “This isn’t about being tolerated -- this is about being partners,” he said. “You do that from the top -- that’s what the real leaders have to do from the top. You should know the Byron Allens, and all the Byron Allens in this beautiful country of ours, and how you can engage them, support them, nurture them.”  

He added, “I should not have endured or experienced what I have experienced simply because I’m Black. We have to be vigilant to make sure that we understand that that’s not who we are, and we are better than that. We’re going to do a lot more to make sure no one ever has this experience again.” 

R. Thomas Umstead

R. Thomas Umstead serves as senior content producer, programming for Multichannel News, Broadcasting + Cable and Next TV. During his more than 30-year career as a print and online journalist, Umstead has written articles on a variety of subjects ranging from TV technology, marketing and sports production to content distribution and development. He has provided expert commentary on television issues and trends for such TV, print, radio and streaming outlets as Fox News, CNBC, the Today show, USA Today, The New York Times and National Public Radio. Umstead has also filmed, produced and edited more than 100 original video interviews, profiles and news reports featuring key cable television executives as well as entertainers and celebrity personalities.