2ND UPDATE with Comcast response: It took a week, but Comcast has response to the FCC about the Byron Allen’s Entertainment Studios calling for a probe of the conglomerate’s minority programming efforts. “This is not the first time (or second, or third) that Petitioners have accused a programming distributor of instituting racist practices,” Comcast wrote in opposing Allen’s filing. “Petitioners are serial litigants who have proven themselves willing to sue anyone in the industry that declines to offer ESI millions of dollars a year in carriage fees for programming that does not appear to enjoy market acceptance. … Petitioners have resorted to baseless allegations against Comcast’s African American business partners, whom they offensively label as ‘token[s]’ and ‘window dressing,’ because they fail Petitioners’ made-to-order ‘100% African American-owned’ litmus test. Comcast is proud of its relationships with these business partners, and of the commitments to fostering diversity that it has made voluntarily to its shareholders and customers, to respected civil-rights organizations (including the NAACP and the National Urban League), and to this Commission.” Read the full Comcast statement here.
UPDATED with Allen comment: Producer and comedian Byron Allen sure is tenacious. A little more than a year after he filed a $20 billion racial discrimination suit against Comcast — one of many against different companies — the entrepreneur wants the FCC to step in and find that it “failed to comply” with conditions attached to its 2011 acquisition of NBCUniversal.
Comcast agreed to “add independently-owned-and-operated programming services in which African Americans have ‘a majority or substantial interest’,” according to the petition from Allen’s Entertainment Studios and the National Association of African American-Owned Media.
It adds that the FCC has not made “even the slightest effort to hold Comcast to its commitments” making the agency “and the Obama Administration complicit in this racially discriminatory conduct.”
Allen and fellow petitioners want the FCC to investigate Comcast, require it to “take immediate corrective measures,” and impose sanctions “including both monetary forfeitures and/or revocation and/or non-renewal of licenses.”
Comcast considers the charges bogus.
“Since NAAAOM’s frivolous lawsuit has gone nowhere, it is now trying the same string of inflammatory, inaccurate, and unsupported allegations before the FCC,” the company says in a statement. “Just as a court has already once dismissed their court case having found no plausible claim for relief, we believe this complaint is also completely without merit and will defend vigorously ourselves.”
The cable company adds that it is “proud of our outstanding record supporting and fostering diverse programming, including programming from African American owned and controlled cable channels. We currently carry more than 100 networks geared toward diverse audiences, including multiple networks owned or controlled by minorities.”
[Note: Allen’s camp challenges Comcast’s claim that the law suit was dismissed. As Deadline reported in August, the U.S. District Court in Los Angeles reopened the case after dismissing it. The legal claim is still pending.]
Comcast told the FCC, in a report last month detailing its compliance efforts, that since 2011 it had added more than 20 independent networks. That included four “with African American or Hispanic American ownership – ASPiRE, BabyFirst Americas, REVOLT, and El Rey.” The company added that it is “reviewing proposals for two substantially Hispanic American owned, independent English-language networks that it will launch in select Comcast markets by January 28, 2017.”
Allen’s petition charges that although ASPiRe is connected to former basketball star Earvin “Magic” Johnson, “the precise nature and extent of Johnson’s ownership interest is not disclosed.” It also questions the channel’s independence, since it’s operated in partnership with the Gospel Music Channel which is not minority owned.
The filing also says that Sean “Diddy” Combs’ Revolt TV may not qualify: Here, too, it says that there’s too little public information about Combs’ financial stake to be able to say that the enterprise is minority owned. What’s more, Comcast may own a piece which, if true, “would violate the condition that the channels be ‘independent’.”
Allen says that the FCC should review all of Comcast’s programming contracts. If it does, then it will “reveal that Comcast is spending $10 billion per year on licensing cable networks, with nothing going to 100% African American-owned media, and this lack of true economic inclusion is racist and discriminatory.”
In December AT&T resolved a $10 billion discrimination lawsuit Allen brought against it: The company’s DirecTV agreed to carry his Comedy.TV and Justice Central.TV , and its U-verse systems picked up Comedy.TV, Recipe.TV, ES.TV, MyDestination.TV, Cars.TV, and Pets.TV — and agreed to continue to offer Justice Central.
In January, he sued the FCC and Charter Communications for $10 billion for “racial discrimination in contracting for television channel carriage.”