Byron Allen: I’m Here To ‘Address The Trade Deficit’ For Black America
Byron Allen is loquacious on any subject, but when he lands on the issue of the “trade deficit” between White corporate America and Black America, he becomes positively electric.
“White corporate America needs to do business with Black America the way that Black America is doing business with White corporate America,” says Allen, founder, chairman and CEO of Allen Media and Entertainment Studios. “Until we achieve that goal, we cannot achieve one America.”
Allen has brought a locomotive energy toward that goal. On the cusp of a second Black-Owned Media Upfront he’s spearheading, he’s also been picking up Big Four stations into his portfolio where he can, outraged that he’s still the only Black person who can count himself owner of one.
In an interview with TVNewsCheck Editor Michael Depp, Allen talks about his personal zeal to redress inequities, the quarry he’s (so far) been unsuccessfully pursuing in Tegna and how he’s dealing with the competitive heat he’s now feeling from Fox in the weather business. He also shares the streaming strategy he’s rolling out across his suite of .tv properties and the ongoing value of the syndication business, even as major studios have had their eyes turned streaming, the “hot new girlfriend” for which he says they’ve abandoned TV stations.
An edited transcript.
Where are you putting your priorities in 2022 given the variety of media assets and ventures that you have across production, syndication, streaming, cable and the station group?
It all works together in symphony. Production is key because content is everything. That content fuels our production in terms of syndication, our production for the television stations as well as our digital platforms. We are putting our emphasis on funding more content and feeding all our platforms, especially digital.
If you still want to expand the TV station group, how are you going to do it? What is out there for you to buy?
There are plenty of opportunities. Our focus is on the Big Four network affiliates, and you are going to see lots of opportunity to buy Big Four network affiliates over the next 12 to 24 months.
Is it safe to say that Tegna is now entirely off the table for you given reports that Standard General and Apollo are getting closer to the finish line on a deal?
I can’t speak about Tegna, but I will say that it is an excellent station group.
You seem to have wanted this group very badly. If they do get away, why would you have let it go?
I feel like you are asking me about the game, and we haven’t started the fourth quarter yet. We should chat after the game and then see exactly who won.
So, the game is still on?
I would say the game is still on and we are in the fourth quarter.
Fox has come in strong into the weather game with the launch of Fox Weather, giving you very serious national competition. They go big when they go into a space, and weather is now in play. What are your countermoves for The Weather Channel?
Rupert Murdoch is one of the best ever when it comes to media, and we welcome competition. Our business, The Weather Channel, has never been better, and we just focus on what we do and do it extremely well.
There is no close second to The Weather Channel. We are about to celebrate our 40th anniversary. When Hurricane Ida came through, we were the number one cable network by far. When it comes to weather news and information, we are the platform everyone turns to. We have won the most trusted news brand 11 consecutive years in a row. We are not concerned. We have a very strong relationship with the American public that goes back four decades, and the numbers prove it. Our technology is amazing, our immersed mixed reality is phenomenal, and we continue to invest.
Is The Weather Channel’s fate tied up in cable’s fate or are you counting on leveraging The Weather Channel Plus as a hedge against that?
No, we are not tied to cable. I always say it is really additive, and the audiences are getting bigger. If we don’t have them over here, we will get them over there. We just did a phenomenal partnership with Google — a global, multiplatform partnership. And then there is the Weather Channel Plus. We are able to go direct to the consumer for a very reasonable price.
Content will always prevail. How you choose to consume that content is a different story. It may be cable, virtual MVPDs, direct to the consumer … whatever it is, we are happy to accommodate. I love the Disney model. Walt Disney gave us Mickey and over the years, Mickey stayed constant while the distribution platforms changed constantly. Whether it was a short in the movies, then radio, television, cable, VHS, DVD and then the internet. Whatever it was, the mouse stayed constant and kept gobbling up all the cheese.
The technology and the delivery platforms will morph, but the consumer will have the same appetite. The very definition of intelligent life is life that can adapt. It is the same thing about businesses.
When will Weather Channel Plus launch?
It is going to happen in the second quarter.
How are things developing with Weather Channel En Español? Are you still hiring for that?
They are still hiring. It is based in Atlanta, a terrific campus of close to 400 people who are some of the smartest people out there, and all of the resources of The Weather Channel are being put behind the Weather Channel En Español. It will be a best-in-class, 24-hour Spanish news network, and we are very proud of that.
And it will be a digital-only channel, correct?
That’s right. You can go directly to the Weather Channel En Español in April.
The second Black-Owned Media Upfront will be happening this spring. How many big advertisers do you have an agreement with now?
The first one did extremely well. A lot of Madison Avenue really leaned in in a big way. Ninety-five-plus percent said we get it, thank you for bringing it to our attention. It wasn’t our intent to exclude Black-owned media, and we are going to work with you. Only a few people got cute.
I sued McDonald’s for $10 billion, and the judge [in January] said that the lawsuit can go forward. I didn’t sue McDonald’s because they weren’t spending any money with Black-owned media. I sued them because they weren’t spending enough. My position has been really simple. The greatest trade deficit in America is the trade between White corporate America and Black America. White corporate America needs to do business with Black America the way that Black America is doing business with white corporate America. Until we achieve that goal, we cannot achieve one America. The whole system is imbalanced, and it doesn’t work.
Coretta Scott King was a friend of mine, and she said as Black people we have had four major challenges here in this country: End slavery, end Jim Crow, achieve civil rights and achieve economic inclusion. She said they killed my Martin over the speech he gave in February ’68 when he said there are two Americas. One America has economic inclusion, access to opportunity and education, and the other America doesn’t. That changed my perspective, and it also changed my trajectory and how I built this company. We have to invest in everybody to succeed, and I mean Black, White, Asian, Hispanic, everybody.
Now that the McDonald’s suit has gotten another chance thanks to the federal court ruling in California, what is your most realistic hope for how it plays out?
I have said that the CEO of McDonald’s, Chris Kempczinski, needs to be fired. This is a company that has been sued by Black franchisees for discriminating against them and putting them in horrible neighborhoods, not giving them an opportunity to grow their businesses. They settled that lawsuit for $33 million. Why? Because they are racist, and they are guilty.
Chris Kempczinski’s personal compensation is about $10.8 million. McDonald’s spends probably less than $5 million on Black-owned media out of a budget approaching, who knows, a billion dollars. Very little. Black America is probably 30% or 40% of your business, and your business is $100 billion a year in revenue. Black America is keeping you in the winner’s circle, when it comes time to do business with Black America, you minimize and marginalize it. I am just there to address the trade deficit.
It sounds like you are keeping the lawsuit going to keep the narrative going.
I am saying whenever we see injustice you deal with it. I have invited [Kempczinski] to have a conversation with me. And because he has not accepted the invitation, I have continued my campaign to get him fired. If you are a leader, then you talk to people like me because maybe I can help you be better. You being better helps America.
We as Black people are 14% of the population approximately. I believe we should be 15% of your ad budget because you need to make up for all the years you excluded us. If you are not doing that, then you are being disingenuous when you say you want to do equity and inclusion.
America should not be proud of the fact in 2022 you are looking at the one and only Black person in America that owns Big Four network affiliates. America is better than that.
You have a new digital division of the company. Are all of your streaming efforts falling under that arm?
Yes. Allen Media Digital includes Local Now, which we are very proud of. It uses artificial intelligence and proprietary software to curate, aggregate and stream local news, weather, sports and traffic, geo-fenced to the user’s ZIP code. I invested over $100 million of my own capital to reposition the asset. We went from an SVOD to an AVOD, we added over 11,000 movies, TV shows, documentaries and over 400 channels. It is really hyper-focused on local news and content. We still haven’t put our foot on the pedal on this one, but just a year ago it was doing a little over two million monthly active users. At the end of last year, we were close to 14 million monthly active users.
Originally, you wanted to partner with other local news organizations to put some local content, news content and other content into it. Are you still pursuing those relationships?
We still have those relationships. A number of folks are setting up FAST channels there. The best way I can describe it is a curated YouTube. It is all professionally produced content. The weather is local, not national. It makes sense that The Weather Channel had built out the technology for this particular type of streaming platform [Ed. note: Entertainment Studios’ purchase of The Weather Channel in 2018 included Local Now in the deal] because my weather in my ZIP code is different from your weather in your ZIP code. So, we had the infrastructure in place and the platform to build this very unique streaming [service].
Sports.tv recently launched, one of a number of domains that you secured years ago that include Pets.tv, Recipe.tv, Cars.tv and Comedy.tv among the others. Sports.tv is aggregating from a wide variety of different sources. Is that the template here for this whole suite of direct-to-consumer offerings?
The way I looked at it was simple. About 20 years ago, everybody was dotcom crazy. I said, people are using the internet to read, but we watch more than we read and eventually we are going to use the internet to watch. So, I bought all the premium dot TVs. I took all the beachfront digital real estate. We were waiting for this streaming revolution and started producing content that we own 100%. We started shooting it in native HD so we could go direct to the consumer worldwide. I am looking at the planet, chasing eight, nine billion people. We shot a lot of our content without a host, so you can use artificial intelligence to swap in the foreign language voiceover in over 200 different languages.
NATPE had to scuttle its in-person event because of Omicron in January. You have talked in the past of relocating the show to Los Angeles in the fall to make it more relevant. Is that something that you are still actively interested in seeing happen?
I love NATPE. It changed my life. The first time I went there was January 1981, at the New York Hilton with my Mom. I was 19 years old. I am 60 now. Now the business has morphed because of the ownership caps. You have fewer owners, and so we have to adapt. What do we need to do? We should bifurcate it. There should be two shows. You should do NATPE for Latin America, and it should continue to stay in Miami, and we should do one that is more of a content show in L.A. because that is where a majority of the content is produced. It should be in October because come October, most people have their report card as to what is working or what is not and what they need to fix.
We need to go out of our way to get the streaming platforms to participate in this conference because it is additive, and the landscape is more layered. It isn’t just broadcast syndication and stations. The content lives on broadcast as well as cable platforms and streaming platforms. We need to work together so that we can continue to take our resources and invest in content, make the content better and engage our audiences.
Come January, a lot of stations are kind of down the road on what they want to do with their fall schedules, which is why I am saying let’s get ahead of it and do it in October and let’s do it in L.A. because there is also an expense. You are having a lot of people who really help drive the show as content providers coming out of L.A. across the country. It is more efficient for us to be here and to bring even greater teams and producers who can share their vision.
Given that Disney and NBCU are so focused on their streaming platforms and CBS has its own streaming focus, does that create an opportunity in syndicated for a company like yours? If so, how are you capitalizing on that?
The studios have broken up with the television stations but didn’t tell them. It’s like the studios said I have a new hot girlfriend and didn’t even send them a text, and then you just see them walking down the street with their new hot girlfriend. The studios are madly in love with streaming and their own streaming platforms, and so they are taking their enormous resources and producing content for them. They are not supplying [content] to the broadcast television stations the way they used to.
Now the broadcast syndication business is a relatively small business. It is only about a $2 billion dollar pot. In streaming, they are chasing almost an infinite amount of revenue, so obviously you understand why they made the choice. But with that said, the broadcast syndication business is still a very valuable business, and it needs to be served. We have an enormous amount of real estate on broadcast television stations. We are not going to take the position that it is streaming service first and hey, broadcast television stations who built our businesses, you are way, way last.
These television stations need content. They can’t run news 24/7. They are going to get news fatigue and it is just not going to have the impact. You need other shows to help layer in audiences that you can then bring into your news. You have to have the talent helping to attract people to your stations. So, we are 1,000% committed to investing more in first-run television shows for the broadcast television station community.
February 9, 2022 at 11:38 am
he makes it sound as a push for economic equality, but in reality, its more a push for revenues for byron. even though the group is only moderately successful, he pays himself a salary around $80M, well above most F500 CEO’s, one of the reasons hes struggling to find funding for his acquisitions, they dont want to be involved in highly leveraged transactions, where it seems the top goal is to line the pockets of the chairman, and leave the station group struggling to meet its debt obligation. economic inequality is a real issue, but shouldnt be used as a hammer to line one’s greedy pockets.
February 9, 2022 at 12:47 pm
Maybe I’m missing something? Most broadcasters are publicly held these days. What is the race of a publicly held broadcaster given that anyone of any race, creed or color can purchase a publicly held stock?
[email protected] says:
February 10, 2022 at 12:41 am
Byron Allen’s lawsuit against McDonald’s is baseless without merit and if I was a judge I would throw the case out and he couldn’t refile the lawsuit. Byron likes to shakedown with lawsuits on Comcast & Charter Spectrum even know he didn’t win he got a couple of his channels on both cable companies on higher tiers. And I think that is why Charter added ACCUWeather Network in Jan 2021 I think because Charter knew they had to get a deal with Byron and Weather Channel and some of his local TV stations. As for syndie Byron Allen’s shows are cheap and low-budget his court shows aren’t real people they are actors & actress and not real cases with small claims Byron needs to do better on his syndie shows.