If there was ever an animal that described Black billionaire Byron Allen, his business moves would suggest he had sharks blood running through his veins.
Before The U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear cable television operator Comcast Corp’s bid to throw out comedian and producer Byron Allen’s racial bias lawsuit accusing the company of discriminating against black-owned channels, few people knew who he was.
Here is everything you need to know about the ‘great Black shark with a calculator.
Who Is Byron Allen?
Byron Allen was not born with the proverbial silver spoon in his mouth. This billionaire was birthed from a series of tragedies. He was born in 1961 in Detroit, Michigan. He was born 17 days after his mother’s – Carolyn Folks’ – 17th birthday.
Back then, Blacks across America were organizing marches and conducting sit-ins to obtain equal access to America’s wealth. Byron’s father and grandfather worked in the Detroit’s automobile and Steel industries.
They often took him and his uncle to see where the rich white people in Michigan live. They pointed out the Fords, Dodge Brothers, Goodyear Family and Barry Gordy’s house. When Byron saw Barry Gordy’s home, he saw a Black man living in a white neighborhood with an indoor swimming pool, it changed the way Byron saw himself.
Later in life, he would admit that he was destined to work in the auto or steel factory following in the footsteps of the men in his life until he saw what else was possible for him.
Like most Black Americans of the time, his life would take a turn when in 1968, Byron was out in the street playing. He heard his mother and grandmother’s blood-curdling screams followed by, “They killed him, they shot him. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr”.
Our great orator and soldier for equality had been shot and killed. Tragedy struck and the 7year old Byron woke up to Detroit on fire from riots and a military take over of the city.
From Comedian To Cable TV Mogul
Byron’s mother chose to leave Detroit during that turbulent time. The two of them relocated to Los Angeles, California where her grandfather’s sisters lived. There, she completed her master’s degree in cinema and production at UCLA and looked for work at NBC studios. NBC did not hire her but did agree to honor her request for an unpaid internship.
His mother’s position gave Byron an up close and behind the scenes view of real show business.
As part of her internship, Ms. Folks was allowed to be a tour guide for NBC studios. Byron’s sit-ins included all of the NBC TV Shows popular with Black America. The Flip Wilson Show, Redd Foxx, and Johnny Carson. These experiences coupled with listening to comedians on records and radio with his parents when he was younger birthed in him the goal of making people laugh for a living.
By the time he was 14, not only was Byron on the stage of the Comedy Store, he was also writing jokes for Jimmy(JJ) Walker of the hit show Good Times. This was a huge jump from earning one cent for every 2 newspapers he delivered to earning $25 a joke. (He later learned while being interviewed by a white guy, the white guy had earned 1 cent for every newspaper he delivered.)
Byron’s career evolved from writing comedy to hosting Real TV which he accredits as the birth of reality TV. As Byron continued his career, the tragic storyline of unequal pay continued and eventually his time on TV ended with no options. He was told he wasn’t worth anything anymore to the industry. Byron’s was determined to prevent ever being in a position for someone else to determine is worth.
From Bankruptcy to Billionaire
After a casual conversation with Dick Robertson – a Warner Brother executive that was making a billion a year licensing tv shows – Byron learns that Mr. Robertson has given away HBO Comedy Hour show to a mutual friend of theirs. The HBO Comedy show will gross 10 million a year and Mr. Robertson is chasing hundreds of millions. Mr. Robertson is about to launch 100 episodes of a TV show called Friends, and it was expected to gross $650 million dollars over a three and a half year period.
The numbers were like blood in the water for Byron, motivating him to create his own television show. He went to work interviewing his funniest friends and creating a one hour TV show that he would sell to TV stations across America. He did not have a sales force to send out like Dick did so he worked from his dining room table.
Byron did everything he could to sell his concept to American networks. He spent nearly a year pitching his show to each of the 1300 tv stations in every American market. He even offered to sell the show to TV stations for free in exchange for 7 minutes of local advertising time.
One network – Tribune – agreed as long as Byron could sell the concept to 85% of the TV stations in the United States. He pulled it off, selling 90% of networks who agreed as long as Tribune backed the deal. Everything was set until three white salesmen from Paramount sabotaged his efforts by telling Tribune Executives that Byron was working from his dining room table in his underwear and that Byron’s show would never get on the air.
Tribune reneged on the deal, and Byrons hopes were dashed.
Hollywood is a casino. You have to put your chips on the table and hope for the best. It’s a big gamble. But I believe it’s real simple. Number one, you need a good movie. Number two, you need a good release date. And then number three, you need to spend enough money to tell everybody you have a good movie. – Byron Allen
This was one of many events that caused Byron to change his tactics. He learned to sell advertising, and used his earnings to buy – instead of pitch to – companies. Since then, he has been on a business buying rampage:
- In 1993 he acquired Entertainment Studios, a privately-held American media company that produces, distributes, and sells advertising for 40 TV programs
- In 2009 he acquired 8 24hour HD Cable and Broadcast Networks: AutomotiveTV, CarsTV, ComedyTV, ESTV, Justice Central, MyDestinationTV, PetsTV, and RecipeTV
- In 2015he acquired Indie Film Distributor Freestyle Releasing, a full-service, theatrical motion picture distribution company that specializes in representing independent films.
- In 2016 he acquired The Grio the first digital, video-centric news community for African-Americans
- In 2018 he acquired The Weather Channel the largest cable network not owned by a conglomerate (It is an iconic brand and platform that protects and save lives reported to Byron to be a cash cow)
- In 2019 he acquired Fox Sports Network (in partnership with Sinclair Broadcast Group) along with 21 regional sports networks once owned by 21st Century Fox
Driven By Economic Inclusion
During an interview with Black Enterprise, Byron shared how our Ancestor Corretta Scott King emphasized to him that his true worth that cannot be measured in dollars.
Corretta relayed the 4 barriers that Blacks have had to overcome:
- First to end slavery,
- Second, to end Jim Crow,
- Third, to achieve Civil Rights
- and lastly to achieve economic inclusion.
Corretta believed her Martin was killed because he dared to push for economic inclusion. After this conversation with Corretta, Byron takes up the mantle to fight for economic inclusion. The worth of a man is what he is willing to fight for.
It was then that Byron Allen decided to acquire The Grio and reboot the platform into a media center for Black millennials. From digital properties, TV, and film projects, to events, and E-Commerce, the Grio has since evolved to control Black America’s narrative on all levels of media output in the US and globally.
Since 2014 Byron has also filed lawsuits based on the 1866 Civil Rights Act that protects the rights of newly freed slaves from racial discrimination when doing business. This legislation states the Blacks will have the same rights as white citizens, aggrieved groups have the right to sue, and the law is backed by the 14th Amendment to the US Constitution.
On Dec 3, 2014, Byron and NAAAOM (National Association of African-American Owned Media) filed a $10 billion dollar racial discrimination suit against AT&T U-Verse division and Direct TV. The case was first denied being heard only for the decision to be reversed. By Dec 2015, AT&T reached a settlement and agreed to carry Entertainment Studios shows that they had previously denied.
This lawsuit was well warranted because the cable industry is a notorious $50 billion dollar a year industry that does less than $3 million dollars in business with 100% owned Black-owned media companies. The industry has a history of greasing the hands of high profile Blacks to feign economic inclusion. In fact, out of $70 billion dollars spent licensing cable networks, zero dollars have been spent with African-American owners.
On January 28, 2016, Byron Allen filed suit against Comcast allowing the case to be tried. Comcast has fought this decision and asked the Supreme Court to dismiss the case on grounds that their first amendment rights are being violated. The court is accountable to uphold the 1866 Civil Rights Act and the 14th Amendment established to protect the descendents of enslaved Africans from being shut out of the wealth of America. Deliberations are set for November 16, 2019.
Byron’s worth is no longer about money. It is about addressing America’s greatest fault the reality of having two Americas. A Black America that lacks equal opportunities and a White America without limits. Every project Byron is proposing is in alignment with fighting for economic inclusion and repairing their damage from being locked out of economic opportunities with the media industry being the most blatant and damaging.
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