Byron Allen is on a mission to expand his Entertainment Studios banner as he rides the boom in demand for original content. He also has a purpose in pursuing a controversial legal strategy in what he describes as an effort to right historic wrongs and open doors at the largest MVPDs to networks owned by persons of color and women.
Welcome to “Strictly Business,” Variety‘s podcast featuring conversations with industry leaders about the business of entertainment. In this week’s episode, Allen details how the company he founded in 1993 in his living room has grown rapidly during the past decade, expanding into cable programming and film distribution through his 2015 acquisition of Freestyle Releasing. He also offers a lively look at the negotiations that led to his recent $300 million acquisition of cable’s Weather Channel. When two surprise bidders emerged at the last moment to challenge the deal Allen thought he had in hand, he told the bankers driving the deal to think of him as Muhammad Ali. He had made up his mind that Weather Channel was a strategic asset for Entertainment Studios, which already has a portfolio of seven niche networks.
“I told the bankers to tell the other guys: ‘Muhammad Ali.’ I’m gonna hit ’em so hard I’m going to knock them out of the ring into the cheap seats. Just like Muhammad Ali,” Allen says.
Allen, who got his start in standup comedy and comedy writing as a teenager, also takes aim at the practices of Charter Communications and Comcast in discussing his aggressive legal bid to press for “economic inclusion” rights for persons of color. He has a $20 billion claim on appeal with Comcast and a $10 billion case pending against Charter. He maintains they are violating civil rights laws by failing to do business in meaningful numbers with African-American media entrepreneurs such as himself.
“When I dropped those lawsuits it changed the game,” Allen says. Charter, for one, has added more racial and gender diversity to a board that had been exclusively white men. Allen’s case hinges on a little-remembered law from 1866 mandating economic inclusion rights for newly freed slaves. “I took that law and put it on steroids.”
Listen to the full interview with Allen:
“Strictly Business” is Variety‘s weekly podcast featuring conversations with industry leaders about the business of entertainment. Listen to the podcast below for the full interview, or check out previous “Strictly Business” episodes featuring HBO’s Richard Plepler, Group 9’s Ben Lerer, Bankable Production’s Tyra Banks, Keshet International’s Alon Shtruzman, among others. A new episode debuts each Tuesday and can be downloaded on iTunes, Google Play, Stitcher, and SoundCloud.