Byron Allen Says He’ll Sue More Advertisers to Accelerate Black Media Spend

Byron Allen has long advocated for brands spending more dollars with Black-owned media companies, and this is not the first time he’s threatened lawsuits to put a battery on big advertisers’ backs when it comes to Black media spend.

“My guess is that we’ll have to sue another 20 or 30 corporations, and then the market will correct itself,” Allen says.

Allen owns The Weather Channel, HBCU Go, the Grio streaming app, seven cable networks, a syndication production company, local stations, and digital assets. Allen Media Group owns 15 stations (all CBS, NBC, ABC, or Fox affiliates) in 12 markets, according to MediaVillage and the Wall Street Journal.

The former comedian and Founder/CEO of Entertainment Studios are known for his $10 billion 2021 discrimination lawsuit against McDonald’s Corp. for refusing to conduct advertising business with Black-owned media companies. He also sued Nielsen twice over billing and performance discrepancies since 2020. All three suits are still alive and making their way through federal courts. The McDonald’s lawsuit had three amended complaints in federal court and California state court, yet it has survived many motions to dismiss.

If one thing is for sure, and two things are for certain, Allen has no plans of budging.

“I don’t want to settle with McDonald’s,” Allen says. “I want a judge and jury to tell them your behavior is horrid and racist without question. I want the truth to come out. I want people to see how much money they spend” with Black-owned media, which he said is well below the 2.3% of its marketing and media budget the company has reported.

McDonald’s aside, Allen Media Group has succeeded in getting more ad dollars but he still complains that the industry isn’t doing enough to support Black Media. Unfortunately, considering AMG is a privately held company, we don’t know the nitty-gritty of what these numbers look like. Nonetheless, Allen announced 14 new high-profile advertisers for its HBCU GO Network last week. The group includes four top 25 U.S. advertisers as measured by AdAge, including Procter & Gamble Co., Walmart, AT&T, and Verizon.
While all of this new ad spend for Allen Media Group’s HBCU GO Network is good news, progress is still a slow process for many black media companies.

Early this year, we saw the Black News Channel go bankrupt shortly after it launched. The bankruptcy created a domino effect, causing nearly 300, mostly Black journalists, to lose their jobs, and many didn’t even get their last paycheck.

The Black News Channel went into bankruptcy for two reasons:

  • They did not get subscriber fees from cable operators
  • They did not receive any advertising (less than $2 million in regular advertising)

Fortunately, Allen Media Group recently acquired the Black News Channel through a bankruptcy court auction and has combined it with The Grio Network, so there is still hope.

Meanwhile, it’s looking like a long road ahead for Allen’s suits against McDonald’s and Nielsen.

Mcdonald’s intends to increase its Black media budget to 5% by 2024 but has made claims that they won’t spend with Byron’s properties due to low Nielsen ratings. McDonald’s even went as far as using AMG’s words against them, citing that in their lawsuit against Nielsen, Allen pointed out the significance of Nielsen ratings to advertisers.

Speaking of Nielsen, the court rejected Allen’s request for a preliminary injunction. He was looking to lock in the same rate for The Weather Channel as he did for his smaller networks under a term of the 2007 contract and a 2017 amended deal. However, unfortunately, his company will pay Nielsen more to measure The Weather Channel than the rest of all his properties combined.

With all that said, while Black-owned media companies have reported more advertiser investments since the racial unrest of 2020, it’s still not a level playing field.

Update: A version of this story originally appeared in the AdMonsters Wrapper Newsletter on 9/19/2022. Since then, U.S. District Judge Fernando Olguin ruled that Bryon Allen and AMG could proceed with their case against McDonald’s to determine if the fast-food giant discriminated against Black media owners when allocating ad spend.