When Allen Media Group finalized its out-of-bankruptcy purchase of the Black News Channel for $11 million in August, the buy was the talk of two national media conferences. Attendees at the combined convention of the National Association of Black Journalists/National Association of Hispanic Journalists in Las Vegas, where 4,000 media professionals gathered for the first time in two years, were talking about it. So were those at the lesser known, more scholarly Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communications conference in Detroit, where media professors discussed his impact on the industry in a panel on minorities and communications.
Solely owned by CEO and former comedian Byron Allen, the company’s latest purchase extends the media mogul’s six-year buying spree, one that cements his efforts to build a viable company to help level the playing field for Black media, provide a distribution channel for independent content creators and spur technological innovation. Allen has 650 employees and an empire that includes basic cable TV networks, over-the-top video-streaming channels, motion pictures, TV production/syndication and digital media, according to the company.
Allen addressed the NABJ/NAHJ conference in a workshop earlier this month via livestream and said his goal is for the Allen Media Group to be the world’s largest privately held media company in the world. His aggressive buying strategy, and his focus on “economic inclusion” for the Allen Media Group and other minority-owned companies more than suggests that he is well on his way.
Allen purchased BNC from billionaire Shahid Khan, owner of the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars franchise, who invested over $100 million into the fledgling network. Allen, according to news reports, however, was not able to extend his acquisitions to include an NFL team, losing his bid for the Denver Broncos to a group assembled by Walton family, heirs of Walmart Inc., who bought it for $4.65 billion.
Headquartered in Los Angeles, Allen’s company has offices in New York, Chicago, Atlanta, and Charleston, S.C. Allen owns 36 Big Four —ABC-NBC-CBS-FOX— network affiliate broadcast television stations in 21 U.S. markets and a dozen 24-hour HD television networks serving nearly 220 million subscribers, according to the company. Its holdings include The Weather Channel and free streaming networks like The Grio and Sports.TV. Allen has invested more than $1 billion over the past two years to buy network affiliates across the nation, according to the Montgomery Advertiser.
Allen’s business dealings seek to counter what he has called the “trade imbalance” between white corporate America and Black America and do his part to make sure Black media get their fair share. Among his purchases is HBCU Go, a streaming app featuring content from and about historically Black colleges and universities, from the former BET marketing executive and now president of HBCU Go, Curtis Symonds, who has known Allen for decades.
Symonds said he approached Allen to invest in the struggling app. “I got into a conversation with Byron. I said, ‘I need someone to invest in me.’ He said, ‘I don’t invest. I buy. Put a proposal together.’”
Symonds said Allen saw his app as an opportunity to invest in HBCU college sports. “He really wants to push Black college sports.” The effort meant securing rights for the HBCU leagues.
Symonds said no one should underestimate the goal of Allen to help create and support practical Black media. Symonds said Allen wants to support all the different markets in Black community that he can.
‘Level the Playing Field’
The biggest push, according to Symonds, is Allen’s effort to get more advertising and sponsorship for Black media. Allen recently settled a $10 billion racial discrimination lawsuit against Charter Communications and a similar lawsuit against Comcast, which agreed to carry several of Allen’s channels. He reached an out-of-court settlement with AT&T. The suits alleged that decisions not to carry his channels were motivated by racism.
The company’s strategic purchase of the Weather Channel in 2018, for a reported $300 million, allowed him to sign for a $500 million credit line to power the company’s expansion. In addition, the Weather Channel’s large TV carriage negotiations allows him access to advertisers and financial heft as a mature business, according to Variety, which gives him financial flexibility that most independent media companies do not have.
Like BET founder Bob Johnson in the early days of the cable station, Allen’s Entertainment Studios relies on low-budget TV programming, but in this case, the company holds all distribution rights, which allows it to make TV shows for any distribution from digital, to streaming to broadcast and cable platforms.
According to Variety, Allen said: “When the dust settles, it’ll be a level playing field and enormous opportunity for those who should profit the most,” he says. Specifically for content creators, he believes “the barriers of entry have gone away.”
Distribution Channel for Content Creators
According to the company, Entertainment Studios is the first African American owned multi-platform media studio producing and distributing wide-release motion pictures and content for all platforms. Allen is also the only African American owner of a movie studio releasing theatrical films. The 2015 purchase of Freestyle Digital Media allowed distribution partnerships across all major cable, digital and streaming platforms. Allen Media Group has a library of over 5,000 hours of owned content across multiple genres, which provides content for multiple platforms, including broadcast television, mobile devices, cable television and multimedia devices. In addition, the company has expanded license agreements and programming around the globe.
With the purchase of The Weather Channel’s Local Now, the company can expand technologically advanced features for viewers and users. The Weather Channels uses cutting-edge, immersive mixed-reality technology to draw viewers into detailed and visually stunning weather and climate events that can provide virtual forecasts and show how weather events will affect particular cities and communities. According to Reuters, Allen Media Group made a deal with Google Cloud for services to help increase its streaming service offerings to audiences worldwide and push its content on YouTube TV.
Similarly, the purchase of Black News Channel will add 300 million traditional TV and digital subscribers to the AMG portfolio of assets — which will help expand programming to its holdings and hopefully expand the long-awaited diversity and equity in media.
Byron Allen Timeline
1993 Byron Allen founded CF Entertainment
2003 CF becomes Entertainment Studios/Allen Media Group
2015 Allen purchases Freestyle Releasing to bolster an expansion into film distribution
2015 Separately sued AT&T, Comcast and Charter Communications for racial discrimination
2015 AT&T settles, adding seven of Entertainment Studios’ channels added to AT&T’s DirecTV line up
2016 Purchases The Grio
2017 Released highest-grossing independent movie, 47 Meters Down
2018 Bought the Weather Channel, with Local Now, the free–streaming AVOD service
2018 Released commercially successful Western Hostiles and the historic mystery-thriller Chappaquiddick
2018 Named to Bloomberg 50
2018 Named to 100 Most Intriguing Entrepreneurs at the Goldman Sachs Builders & Innovators 2018 Honored by the Salvation Army
2019 Bought HBCU GO
2019 Released sequel 47 Meters Down: Uncaged
2019 Formed Allen Media Broadcasting, a broadcast station group that includes the “Big Four” stations: ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox.
2019 Partnered with Sinclair Broadcast Group to acquire 21 Regional Sports Networks from Walt Disney/FOX Corporation, now called Bally Sports
2019 Expands into television station ownership with acquisition of four TV stations of Bayou City Broadcasting
2019 Received NATPE’s 16th Annual Brandon Tartikoff Legacy Awards
2019 Received Whitney M. Young Jr. Award, Urban League Awards
2019 Inducted into the Broadcasting & Cable Hall of Fame.
2019 AMB acquired 11 stations from the purchase of USA Television for $290 million.
2020 AMB added Honolulu ABC affiliate KITV, increasing “Big Four” O&O network affiliates to 16 stations in 12 markets.
2020 Comcast agreed to carry Entertainment Studios’ Comedy.TV, JusticeCentral.TV,
Recipe.TV, and The Weather Channel and to retransmission consent for the Allen Media
Broadcasting television stations, in racial discrimination lawsuit settlement
2021 Elected to NAB’s Television Board
2021 AMB acquired Gray Television facilities and added 23 ABC, NBC, CBS and Fox network
2022 Allen Media Group will add 13th network, The Weather Channel En Espanol
Ingrid Sturgis is chair of the Department of Media, Journalism and Film at Howard University. She strives to empower students through social media. Her academic research interests are social networking, multimedia entrepreneurship, the black press, the digital divide and online education. An educator, author, editor and digital media consultant, she holds a B.A. in fine arts from City College Of New York and an M.A. in journalism from New York University. She is working on her Ph.D. at Howard. Ingrid began working in interactive media in 1985 as a member of the New York Time’s videotext project. She has worked online since 2001, most recently as a content consultant for heartandsoul.com and soulofamerica.com She also worked as a senior programming manager for AOL’s Black Voices and as editor at Essence.com. Previously, she worked as a managing editor for the startups BET Weekend and Savoy. In addition, Ingrid has worked for several newspapers, including The Philadelphia Inquirer, the Times-Herald Record and the Poughkeepsie Journal. She is the author of the critically acclaimed “The Nubian Wedding Book: Words and Rituals to Celebrate and Plan an African-American Wedding,” the anthologies “Are Traditional Media Dead,” and “Aunties: 35 Writers Celebrate Their Other Mother.”