Thursday, December 13, 2018

‘Business is a marathon, not a sprint’

November 19, 2018 by  
Filed under Cover Story, Feature

Byron Allen

‘Business is a marathon, not a sprint’

QUESTIONS & ANSWERS | BYRON ALLEN

Byron Allen became a household name on NBC’s hit series “Real People,” a 1980s forerunner to the reality show phenomenon that has redefined how Americans watch television.

Today, as one of the nation’s top media moguls, Allen is making history of a different kind: his $300 million purchase of The Weather Channel — coupled with multi-billion-dollar lawsuits against Comcast and Charter — could help change the face of economic inclusion for African-Americans.

Allen is the founder, chairman and CEO of Entertainment Studios, which produces, distributes and sells advertising for 41 television series — making it the world’s largest independent producer/distributor of first-run syndicated programming for broadcast television. Some of those series include “Funny You Should Ask,” “Mr. Box Office,” “The First Family,” and “America’s Court with Judge Ross,” to name just a few. In 2009, Allen became the first television entrepreneur to own and launch a portfolio of six 24-hour HD television networks simultaneously. These six networks are: Pets.TV, Comedy.TV, Recipe.TV, Cars.TV, ES.TV and MyDestination.TV.

Las Vegas Black Image sat down with Allen for a wide-ranging interview about his life, entrepreneurship, and why economic inclusion is critical to our future.

What is the biggest misconception about a black man owning a share of the television and cable industry?

Buying the Weather Channel was transformative. It was a major breakthrough. It’s the first general market cable network owned by an African-American. It’s the first 24 hour news network owned by an African-American. So we broke the color barrier with this acquisition as African-Americans, and that is important to me. It’s important to me because I always want African-American children to see themselves as global business leaders, and not just people doing business in the black neighborhoods in the black sandbox. There is nothing wrong with that at all, I just want them to know business is like a sport and you don’t have to play in the Negro League. You can play in the global league. And the Weather Channel — that’s the global league.

What was the first thing that happened to start the process on the $300 million dollar deal to buy the Weather Channel?

First, a friend of mine told me about it and that the Weather Channel was available to buy. My team contacted the folks representing the asset, and we went and organized the capital. We made an offer, it was accepted, and we got the buy done. For us we felt that the purchase of the Weather Channel would change our business in a big way. It was a must-get and a must-have.

Did the Weather Channel representatives know that they were selling the network to you a black man?

Yes, they were very aware that I was an African-American man. I don’t think that was ever an issue. I think this was a simple, “go to the highest bidder” transaction. We just made sure we were the highest bidder. Usually, if you walk into the room as the highest bidder, color doesn’t matter. Everything becomes green. But, the question that perpetuates the disconnect is, “As an African-American can we have access to capital?” We don’t have access to capital that is not predatory. What I think is unique about the purchase of the Weather Channel is not that they sold it to an African-American, but that an African-American was able to organize the capital to make the purchase.

Did the money from your lawsuits contribute to the purchase of the Weather Channel?

No, the lawsuits against Comcast and Charter are presently in the Ninth Circuit and we are pursuing them now. These lawsuits are about not having real access to economic inclusion. Civil Rights Act of 1866 Section 1981 is about not having access to economic inclusion. So, that is something that is very important. This is a law that has been put on the books with a number of people and situations.

So, you haven’t won the lawsuits as of yet?

No, Charter and Comcast are still in court. It’s an historic lawsuit and it’s one that hopefully we will prevail — because it is really a mechanism for making sure that we can hold folks accountable that don’t do business in a fair and equitable way. Until now, we never had the ability to hold companies accountable. If you can’t hold people accountable you will keep getting the same old, same old — and until you have true economic inclusion, you will not be able to address the systemic problems in our community. You have to have access to real education, capital that is not predatory, invest in and buy houses and have businesses. Or it becomes a bad problem where you are constantly behind financially.

Where do you see entertainment and the black condition colliding?

I don’t think one thing defines us. I don’t think there should be one layer to us. It should be many, many layers. Some stuff should be funny, and some should be dramatic and informational. Black people are not monolithic. There is no one way to describe black people. We are complicated and have its many layers as anyone else. There is nothing that defines us, nor should we ever be defined.

With your acquired wealth what do you contribute to the betterment of the black community and black people?

I think I give back to the black community in a big way. These lawsuits are huge — and I have spent millions of dollars to prevail and set a precedent to make sure that corporate America is doing business with black America. Right now corporate America doesn’t do business with black America. Most black people can’t get a home loan. I have stepped up and invested millions of dollars to make sure there is a standard and there is a way to hold corporate America and the government accountable for doing business with black America. Coretta Scott King was a friend of mine, and she said as black people we have had four major challenges. “The first was to end slavery. The second was to end Jim Crow. The third was to achieve equal rights, and the fourth was the real reason they killed my husband Martin — economic inclusion.” Black people are positioned to fail, because there is no economic inclusion. These lawsuits are not just about me. These lawsuits set the stage for economic inclusion for all Americans — including African-Americans, who are the furthest left behind.

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