22 Apr Allen Media Group’s Bright Forecast
Byron Allen has been part of the entertainment and media landscape for well over 40 years. He started young, as a teenage joke writer for 1970s comic-powerhouse talent, Jimmie “JJ” Walker, and that led him to the TONIGHT SHOW STARRING JOHNNY CARSON – and as they say in Hollywood: “And the rest is history.” From that amazing stage presence – the youngest stand-up act on Carson’s show – Byron joined the cast of NBC’s REAL PEOPLE, the “original reality show” created by LAUGH-IN Executive Producer, George Schlatter. That role took Allen all over America to meet interesting “real people” for his show segments, but it also connected the young comic with television station general managers and group owners. Those relationships and first-hand experiences would influence Byron Allen and teach him how to look at our industry from a totally different perspective. Life-long friendships with executives like Dick Robertson, Roger King, Al Masini and many other media leaders nurtured a growing knowledge-base and desire to build his own company. That came in 1993 when Allen formed ENTERTAINMENT STUDIOS, which has grown to include cable networks, broadcast television stations, first-run syndication, production, digital platforms, OTT and Mobile APPS, international distribution, movie production and distribution and the list continues to expand today, under the ALLEN MEDIA GROUP, LLC banner.
When Byron Allen acquired THE WEATHER CHANNEL in March 2018, he quickly learned a few things about his new jewel in the crown. In addition to all of the wonderful technology and talent that came with the now 40-year-old, All-American cable network, there was a rare diamond they called Local Now, an OTT offering that would be a game changer for Mr. Allen.
“They told me, it’s the equivalent of a fully distributed broadcast network that uses artificial intelligence and proprietary software to aggregate, curate and stream super-local news, weather, sports and traffic. And you’re probably going to want to shut it down because it’s losing over $25,000 a year,” recalls Allen.
Shutting it down was not even a scribble in Allen’s playbook. “I’m disappointed I wasn’t clever enough to create it, but I’m certainly not dumb enough to shut it down,” he says.
What Allen did do was invest $100 million in the service, transforming Local Now from a $4.99 a month SVOD platform into a free-streaming offering that’s expanded to air more than 12,000-plus TV shows, movies and documentaries, and is home to more than 400 branded channels from the likes of Bloomberg, Kevin Hart and People magazine.
Last January Local Now had fewer than 3 million monthly active users. Today, it counts 15 million, and its revenue has grown faster year over year than that of any venture Allen has been involved in. “That just shows you how amazing digital platforms are,” says Allen, who projects the content roster to more than 20,000 offerings in the near future.
Welcome to the way business gets done at Allen Media Group, which is blazing a unique path through acquisition—including the annexation in the past few years of 27 local broadcast stations in 21 markets—expansion of both the footprint and programming slate for its Entertainment Studios Networks portfolio of television networks, and strategic growth for its properties including digital TV channel and website TheGrio and HBCU GO, the free streaming platform that’s the leading media provider for the nation’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities. And, Sports.TV, the new free streaming sports app featuring live sports channels and On Demand content.
Since establishing a presence in the media, content and technology arenas four decades ago, Allen has been building a Hollywood empire his way, making forward-thinking business decisions that intersect with his passion points of elevating economic inclusion, leveling the playing field, building a more equitable advertising industry and making sure that all are “measured” with the same methods. Among recent moves, he started the Black-Owned Media Matters movement in 2020 and last year staged the first Black-Owned Media Upfront.
“We challenged the MVPDs and cable industry to lean in and do business with Black-owned media, and we’ve done the same thing with the advertising community,” he says. “And we’ve seen results with both.”
The Weather Report
As Allen continues to effect cultural change, business is booming. His desire to help ensure a healthier environment for future generations is a passion that The Weather Channel affords him. He believes that “climate change” and talking about “climate SOLUTIONS” should be in the daily news cycles here in America. “We have the greatest country in the world, we are global leaders, and yet we have turned “climate talk” into political rhetoric. We have weaponized it, and that is wrong. We need to be together on this, weather touches all of us, and kids know that. They are watching. They are our future audience and leaders.” Allen has said many times. And that perspective helps drive many of the technology and business initiatives at ALLEN MEDIA and THE WEATHER CHANNEL.
The Weather Channel—the nation’s most trusted news brand 11 years running, per a recent Harris Poll—marks its 40th anniversary on May 2 with the launch as a free ad-supported (FAST) channel of Weather Channel en Espanol, the first 24/7, Spanish-language weather-focused network with distribution across MVPDs, OEMs and OTT.
What’s more, The Weather Channel continues to break technology barriers. The new incarnation of its app is debuting with increased, tech-driven personalization capabilities including the ability for users to access hyper-localized radar and weather data from their community. Its inroads in immersive mixed reality (IMR), which have garnered the network three Emmy Awards, is driving innovations including “virtual views,” which enable meteorologists at its Atlanta HQ to virtually immerse in the weather conditions around the U.S.
“It’s extraordinarily important for us to be able to elevate technology into the next phase of localization, which we are seeing in the next generation of connected TV,” says Tom O’Brien, The Weather Channel President and EVP of Allen Media. “Our ability to three-dimensionalize key weather stories and use technology to make compelling visuals around key weather to show people how to prepare for events like hurricanes, storm surges and tornadoes for their own safety is critical.”
The Weather Channel’s immersive storytelling are driving new partnerships, such as the recent collaboration with CBS News that brings enhanced weather and climate reporting to viewers around the world. “It’s a content and technology partnership, and the opportunity to increase the reach and impact of The Weather Channel is fantastic,” says O’Brien, who envisions more partnerships are on the way.
Let Us Entertain You
Bloomberg called him a “Media Mogul”, and in many ways, Byron Allen exactly that. But, from that young age on the TONIGHT SHOW, at his core, Byron Allen is an entertainer. He wants to make us laugh. He is a story teller. He has a bright attitude and his company boasts, not just one of the largest content libraries in the business, but a library that connects and entertains all demographics. As he has said, we have “something for every passion out there: cars, pets, food, travel, drama, comedy… science.” At Entertainment Studios Networks, which Allen launched in 2009, distribution for its suite of HD television networks is at all-time-high. The portfolio includes Comedy.TV, JusticeCentral.TV, Recipe.TV, Cars.TV, MyDestination.TV, Pets.TV, and ES.TV. The company remains the No. 1 in distribution growth among all basic cable networks, with no signs of slowing down.
As of April 6, with new carriage deals in place for The Weather Channel and all Entertainment Studios Networks on YouTube TV, The Weather Channel will grow to more than 73 million estimated Nielsen UE subscribers. Recipe.TV, which has been nominated for multiple Emmys, now reaches approximately 36 million Nielsen UE subscribers. Comedy.TV, featuring hit comedy game show “Funny You Should Ask,” now reaches over 41 million subscribers, and JusticeCentral.TV now is seen by more than 54 million subscribers.
“The Allen Media Group is strong, our prospects are bright, and we are well positioned to continue long-term sustainable growth for years to come with our network affiliated broadcast television stations, broadcast networks, cable networks, production units and digital streaming platforms,” says Janice Arouh, President of Network Distribution, who’s racing toward a goal of 70 million- plus household distribution for each of the company’s court, comedy, and lifestyle networks.
As the audience expands for the Entertainment Studios Networks—so too do their programming rosters. We The People, a syndicated daytime court show starring Emmy-winning Judge Lauren Lake, is on tap to join six existing highly successful court shows JusticeCentral.TV for fall 2022, with a forecast of more than 90 percent coverage of all U.S. television households. More than 700 new court episodes are in the works for the 2022-23 season.
Taste Award-winning Recipe.TV is continually adding content featuring world-renowned chefs. This season new series Celebrating with Lorna Maseko and The French Pub with Edward Delling- Williams join existing in-the-kitchen fare Katie Parla’s Roman Kitchen!; Baking at Ballyknocken with Catherine Fulvio; comfort food-focused Catherine’s Farmhouse Kitchen; and Paris Bistro Cooking with Edward Delling-Williams.
Helmed by Andy Temple (insert Andy’s correct/current title), AMG’s Television Group is also constantly mining the marketplace for time periods and partnerships that become available as once-stalwart programs go off the air. Temple optimizes his deep industry relationships to ensure the AMG content library is packed with safe, reliable and entertaining shows.
AMG is also revving up its acquisition strategy. As we all emerge from the treacherous pandemic years, ALLEN MEDIA GROUP is strong and healthy. Byron Allen’s business model has weathered the storm and his staff – which grew during the global lock-down – will attest to his leadership. Allen never laid off a single staffer. He believes in :people first” and that core executive base is the foundation that his company is built on, and that is what allows AMG to grow and form fruitful partnerships that strengthen our industry.
Allen partnered with Sinclair Broadcast Group in 2019 to acquire 21 regional sports networks (RSNs) from Disney, the engine for the launch this January of Sports.TV. The free streaming platform aggregates sports, news, movies, documentaries and entertainment, as well as local broadcast television stations. Its lineup now features nearly 100 channels and growing, including Pac12 Insider, HBCUGo.TV, World Poker Tour and SportsGrid, and Sports.TV eventually will provide subscribers the ability to transact as it launches RSNs, pay-per-view, ticket sales and sports betting throughout the year.
Further cementing the importance of local broadcasting, the company thus far has purchased 27 broadcast stations in 21 markets, all of them Big Four (ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox) affiliates, all No. 1 or No. 2 in their respective market, and all with strong local news operations that target university towns and state capitals that are deeply ingrained in the fabric of their communities.
“We really want to achieve the station cap of owning television stations in this country, which is currently at 39 percent,” says Allen, who notes 93 of the top 100 TV shows year and major sporting events were viewed on a Big Four network last year.
“So we are aggressively pursuing the acquisition of Big Four network affiliates. We are firm believers in these assets because they have proven to be pandemic-proof and war-proof. Whatever’s going on in the world, you need these affiliates because they provide local, national and international news,” he adds. “And local news matters; it is the foundation of our democracy and our freedom, and it has to be not only protected but nurtured and invested in to go to the next level. We need it to be smarter and better than it is today.”
Powering Allen Media Group’s rapid expansion are savvy technology endeavors and partnerships.
Through its freshly inked multiyear, multiplatform alliance with Google, Google Cloud will provide secure and scalable cloud infrastructure to enable AMG to deepen its connection with audiences worldwide, and more quickly build apps and access business insights. Additionally, Allen Media Digital and Google will continue their collaboration to enable consumers to access AMG’s streaming offerings on the devices of their choice via Google Play to Android phones and tablets, as well as Google TV and other Android TV OS devices.
“Google Cloud will provide its secure and scalable cloud infrastructure to power our digital evolution, deepening our connection and relationships with our audiences worldwide,” Arouh says.
“Using Google Cloud, we will also build apps faster, improve our IT infrastructure to make smarter business decisions, and connect to our audiences anywhere,” she adds. “While also enabling access to business insights using Google Cloud’s data analytics, artificial intelligence, and machine learning capabilities.”
Making a Difference
From his earliest memories as a little boy in Detroit in the late 1960s, Byron Allen has seen a side of our country that only Black America can see. It’s that way because our culture has glossed over many points in our collective history. It’s been white-washed. It’s got nothing to do with “wokeness” and it has everything to do with being truthful and fair. Many of us don’t event see it, that’s how culturally entrenched racism is. While all of the positive and energetic enthusiasm helps Byron build his company and form strong partnerships, it is the injustice and the systemic racism that he has experienced that fires his passion to help build a better industry for all of us.
In the depths of the political and social strife in the middle of a battle with a pandemic enemy we could not see, Byron Allen formed the BLACK OWNED MEDIA MATTERS Movement, in the summer of 2020. “Legal advisors have told me to stay in my lane and I am doing that when I call out ad-industry brands and executives who just disregard Black-owned companies, specifically, Black Owned Media,” says Allen. “The fact that we are having this discussion in 2022 should tell us all something. RACISM must be eradicated, and it needs to start with advertising. Advertising is what drives every piece of content, every streaming service, every cable, broadcast and over- the-air network, and we are going to effect that change.”
Allen’s Black Owned Media Matters aims to establish a mandate starting point allocation of 5% to 10% of all media plans and commercial advertising in our business. His company has started the first-ever Black Owned Media Up Fronts where many industry executives have a dedicated home to present their opportunities and partnership strengths to advertisers and their agencies. Byron Allen is doing this because he sees how “the norm” of inequities is hurting Black American business; and that hurts American business.
As an example, BLACK NEWS CHANNEL, which recently filed for bankruptcy would have thrived had it been given a fair and equitable chance, as Allen has pointed out. “It’s not just that BLACK NEWS CHANNEL was victimized as a business, but it’s the people there, hundreds of dedicated, aspiring and talented African American workers have also lost their jobs. That’s the story. You have got to look at the whole picture” says Allen. “Had there been serious interest and investment and partnerships with advertisers and distributors, BLACK NEWS CHANNEL would have survived. That is the sad truth, and we have got to fix it.” He has gone on record many times by repeating what Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. cited in his 1968 speech: THE OTHER AMERICA, “There are two Americas, and two Americas will not survive. We need ONE America.”
Byron Allen has a different perspective. His roots in comedy and performing have given him a unique point of view and that has fueled his fearlessness to make us look at ourselves and our industry through an honest lens. When we do, it makes us better. It makes us stronger. It helps build our media and entertainment community. Byron Allen and his ALLEN MEDIA GROUP are setting a new course that inspires viewers and industry peers, and that is a bright and sunny future for everybody.
– Cathy Applefeld Olson