Entertainment Studios CEO, chairman and founder Byron Allen touched several topics in his CinemaCon breakfast session today, from his beginnings as a kid hanging around the Universal and NBC lots where his mother worked to breaking through in syndication with his Entertainers With Byron Allen and launching Entertainment Studios’ motion picture division with the indie darling 47 Meters Down.
Allen told exhibitors how he plans for his studio to be the middleweight with $30M-$60M grossing titles — the type of fare studios sidestep.
“I don’t like the whispers and the conversations from studios who want to reduce your window,” said Allen to great applause/ “That’s unacceptable, and I’m here to fight for it and defend it. Let’s not talk 90 days, how about 120 days?”
He then pitched exhibitors that “as theater owners, maybe you should be part of all the revenue streams so we protect the most important thing — the excellent consistent flow of content.” Allen warned that other media outlets, such as streaming, are after theatrical talent, and as an industry we need to make sure that “they don’t gobble up talent and take them out of our sandbox. We need that talent in our sandbox to not keep our business flat, but grow.”
As an independent distributor, Allen promised “to run through that wall” while praising his competitors including NEON, Annapurna and STXfilms with their M.O. to keep such fare alive on the big screen. Upcoming releases for Allen’s company include the faith-based title God Bless the Broken Road, Animal Crackers, a 47 Meters Down sequel and the Keanu Reeves sci-fi title Replicas for which Entertainment Studios paid $4M out of the Toronto Film Festival.
The room found Allen’s story inspirational, from the time he left the riot-filled neighborhoods of Detroit as a kid, to his mother’s rise in the industry in Hollywood, to his start as a comedian, and finally a TV syndication and network mogul. A turning point for him was when his friend, an executive at Warner Bros TV, informed about the millions of dollars that could be made by selling one show local station by local station. That friend was abandoning sales on the HBO Comedy hour, a $10M-a-year revenue show, because it would conflict with the network’s $650M push for Friends. So he started selling the Hollywood interview show Entertainers With Byron Allen.
Allen said, “I thought, ‘Wow, $10 million is a waste of your time?’ I went home and started my company from my dining room table selling a show once a week and started wasting my time.”
Local stations, and soon media buyers, didn’t take Allen seriously at first because he was running his company from his dining room table in his underwear. He told the room he foreclosed on his house 14 times over a four-year period. But he persisted and ultimately got the major studios onboard to advertise on his show, a watershed moment that led other industries coming aboard to sponsor his show.
“Just like that (WBTV executive) friend of mine who thought $10M was crumbs, we gotta take those crumbs and make a gourmet meal,” said Allen about his business plans. And once they yield those $30M-$60M grossers at the box office, “we’ll develop that weight class and we’ll move up.”