In his early 30s, in 1993, Byron Allen syndicated the low-budget interview-format Entertainers with Byron Allen to television stations. Allen interviewing stars as they promoted their movies — that the comedian assembled a Hollywood empire of 43 syndicated television series, eight cable networks, Weather Channel, and a movie studio that distributed Chappaquiddick and shark thriller 47 Meters Down. He’s calls it “100 percent African American-owned.”
But there’s one part of the entertainment business that Allen hasn’t cracked: cable distribution to about 36 million subscriber homes served by Comcast Corp. and Charter Communications. Allen has filed two lawsuits against both companies, alleging discrimination for not carrying his Central.TV, Comedy.TV, and other cable channels. He seeks $20 billion under a Reconstruction-era civil rights law that says companies can’t discriminate based on race in business contracts.
In his suits, Allen cites racially biased comments by executives at both companies. He also claims in the Comcast suit that two African American-owned channels that Comcast agreed to distribute as part of an agreement with the Federal Communications Commission for the NBCUniversal deal have “questionable ownership and control.”
Comcast and Charter deny that race played any part in their business decisions not to distribute Allen’s cable networks over the last decade. They say they based their decisions on limited channel capacity on their systems, cost, popularity and ratings of Allen’s networks, and the cable giants’ First Amendment right to decide what they want their customers to watch.