As we celebrate Black History Month, Cheddar is highlighting prominent Black Americans who are carving their own historic paths and trailblazing in their industries. While Black History Month has become synonymous with reflecting on past achievements of Black Americans, it is important that we acknowledge today's historic feats as they happen.
Byron Allen speaks during a ceremony honoring him with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame on Wednesday, Oct. 20, 2021, in Los Angeles. (Photo by Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP)
Businessman, comedian, TV producer, and philanthropist are just a few of the hats Byron Allen wears, but to encompass who he has become over the last 60 years, it feels appropriate to call him a media mogul. Allen founded the crown jewel of his media empire, Entertainment Studios, in the early 1990s and has since grown it into a powerhouse of programming. It was the first Black-owned, multi-platform media studio and owns dozens of local news stations and television networks like The Weather Channel, Local Now, and The Grio.
In 2018, Allen and his Entertainment Studios acquired The Weather Channel for a staggering $300 million. Despite a decline in viewership, mostly blamed on mass cord-cutting across the U.S., Allen said the network still has value because it provides life-saving information. He also said at the time that the acquisition was part of a larger effort to continue building the portfolio at Entertainment Studios.
"The acquisition of The Weather Channel is strategic, as we begin our process of investing billions of dollars over the next five years to acquire some of the best media assets around the world," Allen told Deadline in a 2018 interview.
In this May 8, 2009, file photo, Byron Allen arrives for an event in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Dan Steinberg, File)
Allen has used his influence to push for economic equality. He and Entertainment Studios have filed several lawsuits against major corporations for discriminatory practices.
In 2015, Entertainment Studios settled a lawsuit it filed against AT&T for racial discrimination, noting the cable company had no agreements in place with 100 percent Black-owned media companies. Allen also went after Charter Communications in a $10 billion lawsuit, alleging the company violated the post-Civil War 1866 Civil Rights Act, also settled out of court. Philadelphia-based cable company Comcast faced a similar suit for $20 billion from Allen and eventually settled after a five-year court battle.
Now, Allen and Entertainment Studios have their sights set on the golden arches. He filed a $10 billion legal action against McDonald's for racial discrimination alleging the fast-food chain refused contracts in a pattern of racial stereotyping. Allen said the company does not conduct advertising business with Black-owned media companies at the same rate as white-owned media, and when they do, Black companies are subjected to a lower-tier payment system.
In an interview with Variety, Allen said his legal challenges of major corporations and their discriminatory practices provide a path toward economic equality.
"I realized that the greatest trade deficit in America is the trade deficit between white corporate America and Black America. And this is by design" he said.
He also told Variety, "First, they make sure Black America doesn't have access to a proper education. America kills us in the schoolroom by making sure we don’t have a proper education. America kills us in the courtroom by making sure we don't have equal justice. And America kills us in the boardroom by making sure we don't have economic inclusion, long before America puts their knee on our neck. That's where the genocide is occurring. It's occurring in the schoolroom, the boardroom, and the courtroom."
Allen could be on track to make even more history this year after throwing in his hat for ownership consideration of the NFL's Denver Broncos. Earlier this month, the franchise officially announced the sale of the team, and if Allen secures it, the Broncos would become the NFL's first franchise with a Black majority owner. The price tag on the sale is rumored to be around $3 billion to $4 billion.