Byron Allen recently made the news for two reasons: he bought the Weather Channel for a reported $300 million, and his production company, Entertainment Studios, also released a controversial film about Chappaquiddick, the story of when a Kennedy was involved in an alleged car accident in the 1960s that left one woman dead.
In recent interviews, Allen admitted that there were people that were pressuring him not to release the film.
“Chappaquiddick” apparently offers details about the accident that were previously unreleased, reports Variety.
“Unfortunately, there are some very powerful people who tried to put pressure on me not to release this movie,” Allen said. “They went out of their way to try and influence me in a negative way. I made it very clear that I’m not about the right; I’m not about the left. I’m about the truth.” At the film’s premiere at Samuel Goldwyn Theater in Beverly Hills, Allen said the woman who died when then Sen. Ted Kennedy drove his car off a bridge in Martha’s Vineyard – Mary Jo Kopechne – was one of the ”original #MeToo victims,” and it was her time to receive justice and the truth. Many pundits believe the incident cost Ted Kennedy a run at the presidency.
Allen, 56, has been making moves in the entertainment industry for about four decades now. As a teenager, after his family relocated from Detroit to Los Angeles, he started popping up in comedy clubs, trying to make a name for himself as a stand-up comic. He was only in his teens. The recent acquisition of The Weather Channel (TWC) came from Comcast and private equity firms Blackstone Group and Bain Capital, according to the Wall Street Journal. TWC is seen in about 80 million homes across the country, with an international presence as well.
Allen and his staff will have to work to keep those numbers up, as more and more people are accessing weather information via their mobile devices, and cable companies that carry TWC continue to lose customers because consumers are cutting out cable providers for streaming services instead.
Over the years, Allen has quietly built an empire of sorts when it comes to syndicated TV programming. His holdings include Pets.TV, Comedy.TV, Cars.TV and others, as well as a production arm for movies and original television programming. An example of one of the shows Allen executive produced is “Funny You Should Ask,” a game show that uses comics to answer questions. Allen himself occasionally sits on the comic-filled panel. Allen says TWC is still widely distributed and especially followed by millions during weather crises, which will provide him leverage to expand his media holdings even further.
More plans for independent media
“It is a stronger relative to help pull us along,” he explained of the acquisition, adding that he plans to acquire more independent media assets to strengthen his company – Entertainment Studios – even more.
Allen is following in the footsteps of other media giants that are attempting to consolidate, such as AT&T, which is attempting to acquire DirecTV and Time Warner, which is currently under scrutiny by the U.S. Justice Dept.
Actually, the deal with Comcast to buy TWC is odd at best, as Allen filed a $20 billion lawsuit in 2016 against the cable giant, charging that Comcast exercised racial discrimination when it failed to launch new networks with African American ownership as part of the deal when it bought NBC/Universal.
“My lawsuits were to start the process of: We need to have ownership. We need to control our image and how we’re produced and depicted and seen around the world. So these lawsuits are revolutionary. What I said to Charter is, ‘Shame on you. Your board of directors, 11 white guys. Every 90 days, you get together in a room and you look around and go, “This feels right.” You don’t even have a woman on your board, which represents 60 percent of the global population. No African Americans, no Asians, no Hispanics. Eleven white guys, every 90 days. Who’s your crack dealer? It’s just blatant racism and sexism, and I’m not going to leave this for my kids to deal with. Here, here’s a $10 billion lawsuit.’”
That lawsuit is still pending, as is the similar one he brought against Comcast. Allen told the WSJ one of the two legal challenges will be settled soon, while the other one he intends to “take all the way.” Allen, who still occasionally hosts or appears on his own shows, did not specify which one would be settled adding, “That depends on them.”
Allen knows what he is doing, no doubt. He’s definitely adept at using the tools available to him, whether they are monetary or legal, to force change in an industry that has been historically resistant to inclusion. In 2014, he went after AT&T and its DirecTV/U-Verse, and that was quickly settled within a year when he secured distribution for seven cable channels with the network.
Star recognizing star
Byron Allen, believe it or not, was groomed by a rising star in comedy, who saw something special in the teen when he was braving the L.A. comedy club scene, and that rising star was comedian and comic actor Jimmie Walker. The “Good Times” star, who also toured the country with his comedy act, hired Allen as a writer. During his stint as a writer, Allen found himself working with people who would eventually become late night talk show icons: Jay Leno and David Letterman. But Allen’s dreams ran deeper. By 1993, he had his own show to host, “Entertainers,” and that was the beginning of the building of what has become a media empire.
“Byron has an amazing story. A lot of people don’t realize he started very young and worked at his craft, expanding his horizons along the way,” says Dr. Farrah Gray, a multi-millionaire who also is a successful entrepreneur, as well as a motivational speaker with millions of followers on social media. “Young people, especially people of color, can look to him as an example of what hard work and perseverance can accomplish.” Allen, though, warns that working predominantly in LaLa Land has its own special challenges. “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.” It’s obvious that Allen has an eye for a good movie. Some of his recent acquisitions have gone on to become hits at the box office, including “47 Meters Down,” “Hostiles” and “Chappaquiddick,” which is in theaters now.
“I bought 47 Meters Down off of Bob Weinstein. I never deal with Harvey Weinstein on that at all because Harvey wasn’t on that side of the house,” Allen recalls. “This movie was on a truck and headed to the DVD store. We were able to stop the trucks from delivering it to the DVD stores, and it ended up being the biggest indie release of the year.”
Some of his other projects, where he mostly served as executive producer, include “The Hurricane Heist,” “Animal Crackers,” “Served Like a Girl” and of course “Chappaquiddick.” Successful – heavily syndicated – TV shows under his guidance include “Entertainers,” “Justice For All with Judge Cristina Perez,” “Comics Unleashed,” “The Verdict with Judge Hatchett,” “Justice with Judge Mablean, “Supreme Justice with Judge Karen,” “Mr. Box Office,” “The First Family “and many, many more.
According to industry insiders, Allen makes in excess of $100 million alone on his syndicated TV shows.
Allen is close to the standard retirement age, but he’s made it clear that he has no intention of slowing down. In fact, it’s been said by some media that he wants to become the next Walt Disney. Consider this: in 2017 when Allen took indie film “47 Meters Down” off the DVD block and released it, it became the highest grossing independent film of the year, reports Indie Wire. The film in the summer of 2017 earned more than $42 million. But Allen scoffed at the idea that he was becoming the king of independents, saying, “I am not chasing independents, I’m chasing Walt Disney. I’m looking for a large piece of that box office pie, not a tiny piece of that box office pie.”
Said Indie Wire of the entrepreneur and his acumen for picking profitable films: “… speaks of his ability to take the studio crumbs and make a loaf of bread.”
A formula for success
“Byron Allen is showing that he’s not only an industry maverick, he’s developed a formula for success that should be modeled by every aspiring filmmaker out there… keep your rights!” says Deronte Smith, an author and indie filmmaker out of Atlanta. “By keeping his rights, then creating the market by selling to one television station at a time, Allen effectively became his own studio. Perhaps what’s most impressive is his uncanny ability to leverage his positioning for bigger opportunities. Purchasing the Weather Channel for a few hundred million when it was just valued at more than $2 billion a couple of years ago is a boss move. Period.”
No doubt… it’s taken him years, but he started Entertainment Studios in 1993 by himself and it now employs hundreds. It’s clear Allen is not just after films that will prove to be lucrative; he’s also looking for films with significant content. “His ambition is positive for the business,” reports Kevin Iwashina of Preferred Content, which negotiated the deal that brought “Served Like a Girl” to Allen’s Entertainment Studios. “I believe he wants to be associated with meaningful content. He spent significant time with the filmmaker expressing his passion for the issue of homeless female veterans. It was clear he had an emotional connection to the film.”
Allen has said he wants to distribute 12-17 movies a year, as the major studios do. “I want our movies to be global, and I want them to be family, and I want them to be wide releases. So I’m not looking to do 500, 800, 1000-screen releases, more like 2,000-4,000 screen releases. That’s what I want.”
A funny story about how determined Allen can be… when he heard the Weinsteins were dumping “47 Meters Down” to DVD, he approached Bob Weinstein, but the deal was taking its sweet time. It so happens that Bob is a neighbor of Allen’s in Malibu. So Allen walked right up on Bob’s deck and told him, “Let’s get this done.” And the deal was made. But there’s more… suddenly Weinstein wanted his money… by noon Friday or he was shipping the film to DVD, Allen wired the money, and the film was literally pulled off the trucks.
Allen is making moves personally as well. Earlier this year, he paid an estimated $22.8 million for an oceanfront estate on the western shore of Maui, Hawaii. With 130 feet of beach frontage, the nearly one-acre property also features a 7,300-foot home with five bedrooms and seven bathrooms. The doors and windows and trim are made of mahogany while the exterior is built with coral stone. Set in a picturesque spot, the estate offers a pool, wine cellar, open-air spa, media room and 1,700 square feet of living space outdoors. Allen is married, and his wife Jennifer Lucas and him have three kids.