James Kotecki (00:08): 

This is CES Tech Talk. I'm James Kotecki, bringing you an interview that I recorded live at the C Space Studio at CES 2023. Enjoy. Welcome back to day two of the C Space Studio, sponsored by Salesforce, here at CES 2023 where we're talking to media, marketing, branding leaders all day live, and we're bringing it to you. And we're so excited about it. My name is James Kotecki. And right now, I have got a fantastic guest, Byron Allen, the founder and chairman, Allen Media Group. Welcome to the C Space Studio. 

Byron Allen (00:44): 

Well, thank you. I'm happy to be here. It's great sitting with King James Jr. 

James Kotecki (00:49): 

Wow. Oh, my gosh. 

Byron Allen (00:51): 

There's LeBron James, and then there's King James Jr. He's King James. He's 80 points a game. And then this is King James Jr. How many points a game are you? 

James Kotecki (01:02): 

Well, if interviews count as points, then I guess I've done a few dozen so far. 

Byron Allen (01:05): 

Okay. You're a thousand points a game. 

James Kotecki (01:05): 

All right. 

Byron Allen (01:07): 

How're you doing, buddy? 

James Kotecki (01:07): 

I think if people aren't able to tell you, you are a standup comic. This is actually not what we're here to talk about, but I'd be remiss if I didn't mention you were the youngest standup on the Johnny Carson Tonight Show. Is that right? 

Byron Allen (01:19): 

That's right. I was 18 years old. May 17th, 1979. King James, what were you doing May 17th, 1979? 

James Kotecki (01:28): 

I was waiting to be born. 

Byron Allen (01:29): 

Oh, wow. 

James Kotecki (01:30): 


Byron Allen (01:30): 

You were an embryo. 

James Kotecki (01:31): 

I was waiting to come into this world. 

Byron Allen (01:32): 

Not even, you were ready. 

James Kotecki (01:33): 

I was in the spectral realm of like- 

Byron Allen (01:35): 

[inaudible 00:01:35]. Oh, okay. 

James Kotecki (01:35): 

Yes, exactly. 

Byron Allen (01:36): 

All right. So yes, this is way before your time. I was really fortunate to do The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. He blessed my life, blessed my family's life. It was such an honor. I loved Johnny Carson. My mother used to give tours of NBC. My mother went to UCLA, got her master's degree- 

James Kotecki (01:36): 

Before you did the show. 

Byron Allen (01:53): 

Before I did the show, she went to UCLA, got her master's degree in cinema TV production. And she went to NBC and said, "Hey, can I work here for free?" And they said no. She said, "I have my master's degree. I just want to get in the business." They said no. She said, "Do you have an intern program where I could work for free?" They said no. And then she asked a question that changed our lives forever, "Will you please start one with me?" And they said yes. So she used to give tours of NBC. I could not afford... She couldn't afford childcare. So some days after school in the summer, I would go and hang out at NBC waiting for my mom to get off work. And I saw Johnny Carson and I thought, "This is the greatest guy ever." 


And I loved him, and I thought, "What a wonderful way to go through life, making people laugh, hosting talk shows, meeting great people." And I started doing standup. And I used to support Mr. Carson. I used to stalk him. I used to stand near his parking space. Because he used to pull onto the lot where they did The Tonight Show. Every day like clockwork, you could look up, you could look at your watch, look up, and Johnny Carson was pulling into his space at two o'clock, get out of his car with a brown paper bag lunch. And he used to see me and I used to say hello and kept doing standup. Next thing you know, ended up being on his show a couple weeks before I graduated from high school, all in an effort to try and get a date to the prom. 

James Kotecki (03:19): 

Well, yeah, because they said you were going to go home and do your homework after that. I watched that clip. 

Byron Allen (03:24): 

I was still trying to graduate. 

James Kotecki (03:25): 

And was your mom in the audience when you did that? 

Byron Allen (03:27): 

Oh, yeah. 

James Kotecki (03:28): 

Well, a belated, by many decades, congratulations on that. Let's flash forward because I believe you've just or you're about to celebrate the 30th anniversary of your company, right? 

Byron Allen (03:36): 

That's right. 

James Kotecki (03:37): 

Allen Media Group. 

Byron Allen (03:37): 

That's right. 

James Kotecki (03:38): 

So maybe can we just get a snapshot of the different assets, the umbrella we're talking about? I understand you're in content distribution, you're creating content, you own television channels. How do you snapshot that? 

Byron Allen (03:50): 

Well, first of all, thank you for asking that question. We're about to celebrate our 30th anniversary. I started the company from my dining room table, smiling and dialing, dialing and smiling, putting on our first syndicated show, Entertainers with Byron Allen, which is still on. We have about 70 television shows on television and syndication. We own about 12 cable networks, one of them being The Weather Channel. And The Weather Channel is just a phenomenal platform. It's been voted the most trusted news brand in America 11 consecutive years in a row. 


And it's just been an amazing ride. Bought The Weather Channel almost five years ago. We own TheGrio. TheGrio has been doing a lot of wonderful things. We just had TheGrio Awards. We've been putting on HBCU Sports. It's the largest supporter of Black college sports. We have Justice Central, Comedy.TV, Pets.TV, on and on and on. We have about 27 ABC, NBC, CBS, and Fox affiliates that we own around the country. It's one of the largest privately held media companies in the world. And it's been my life's work. And I started it 30 years ago, just calling good folks like you. 

James Kotecki (05:06): 

Well, congratulations on 30 years. And it's interesting because you started this in what might now be called traditional media businesses, right? And now, here we are at CES, and you're certainly on the cutting edge of a lot of this technology. What have you learned about growing and evolving the business to keep it relevant over all these years? 

Byron Allen (05:23): 

You know what? You want to stay ahead. I remember when I bought The Weather Channel, March of 2018 is when we bought it. And I remember at the new owners presentation, they said to me, "Oh, by the way, at the very end," and they're showing me The Weather Channel, which is if you ever get to Atlanta, you need to take a tour. It's the Starship Enterprise. It's amazing. And they said to me at the end of the presentation, they said, "Oh, by the way, you own something that's the equivalent of a fully distributed broadcast network that uses artificial intelligence proprietary software that curates and aggregates local news, weather, sports and traffic, and it's fed geofence to the user's zip code." 


And I went, "Wow." And this was about almost five years ago. And I said to them, "This is amazing." And they said, "Don't get excited." I go, "Why not?" They said, "Because you're going to probably want to shut it down." I said, "Why would I ever want to shut down something so spectacular? What's it called?" They said, "Local Now." They said, "It loses well over 25 million a year, and that's why you're going to want to shut it down." I said, "You know what? I'm disappointed that I wasn't clever enough to come up with the idea, but I'm certainly not dumb enough to shut it down." 


So I invested over 125 million of my own capital over the last four or five years to reposition the asset. And when I took over The Weather Channel and inherited Local Now, this streaming service, they were trying to make it an SVOD and get people to pay $4.99 a month. And I said, "Forget that. We're going to go with the world's favorite word, we're going to make it free." And I said, "Let's make it the world's first super app." So we've put there almost 20,000 movies, TV shows and documentaries for free, over 450 fast channels. We're now adding PBS, the great PBS, over 300 streams. And you'll start to see all kinds of things there: rideshare, dating, shopping, you name it. And it's free. And I have to tell you, I've never- 

James Kotecki (07:45): 

It's a true super app. 

Byron Allen (07:46): 

It's a true super app. I've never been a part of anything that has grown so fast, so rapidly. When I look at the revenue that we were doing in the first quarter of '21 versus two years later, it's now 50X higher per day. 

James Kotecki (08:05): 


Byron Allen (08:06): 

It is insane, the growth. But Local Now is truly spectacular. I am very proud of it. It's something that... The best way to describe it, it's a curated YouTube. It's professionally produced content. And you can geofence it to your zip code. So we're providing you local news, weather, sports, traffic in your zip code down to 225 DMAs. 

James Kotecki (08:32): 

So you had this media asset that people thought was not doing very well. You decided to pump a lot of money into it. Now, it's really successful. Was that a philosophical conviction on your part? I'm just wondering, where were you coming from that you made that decision and you saw that where other people did not see that in the data that they could see? 

Byron Allen (08:48): 

Since I started the company 30 years ago, I said, "My mission is to build the world's biggest media company." I'm chasing the Walt Disney Company. I'm chasing Warner Discovery. I'm chasing Netflix. I knew I didn't have a pathway to the world's biggest media company unless I was one of the leaders in streaming. And I said, "I'm not going to chase SVOD. I'm going to dominate AVOD." And the best way to dominate AVOD is through localism. And you add onto it professionally produced content. It's very much the way I grew up watching television. I would watch the local news, and then at some point during the day, no more local news, and then they started running network television shows. So now, we're doing the same thing. The human animal is very predictable. We always want local news, we always want localism, but we also want premium content, a shared community experience. That's what Local Now provides, that localism, that information, and yet it provides a shared community experience. 

James Kotecki (09:59): 

Does having a comic's perspective help shape the way you do business? 

Byron Allen (10:04): 

Absolutely. It's so funny. Tom O'Brien, who runs The Weather Channel for me, he sent me an article and you can Google it, and it says, "Why do comedians make great leaders, great business leaders?" It was a terrific article, if I must say. And basically, it's just your insights, your communication skills. You have to go deeper. We have to always think deeper. If you want to be a comedian, you have to go five layers beyond most minds. And I think it's been great for me. We're not afraid of rejection. When you think about me starting the company from my dining room table, I called all 1,400 television stations to carry our first show, and I had to work through about 50,000 noes to get 150 yeses. Very few people can do that, but a comedian is very good. When you've been booed by 100,000 people, you're okay getting 50,000 noes. 

James Kotecki (11:03): 

And that creativity that you're talking about, is it the idea that you have this premise, and then there's an obvious punchline to the joke, but then you maybe go two or three or four levels deep, and you're just always doing the Rubik's Cube to figure out the different permutations of possibilities? 

Byron Allen (11:17): 

Another thing is, as comedians, we are always studying human behavior. And as comedians, we understand human behavior innately. And if you understand human behavior well enough to make people laugh, you understand human behavior well enough to understand their business needs, what they want, and how you can serve them. Because that's what we do as comedians, we innately understand the human animal. And that way, we can serve them and get a reaction every six seconds. Here's the laugh. I know what you're thinking. I know what you're feeling. I can use that for comedy, and I can use that for business. 

James Kotecki (11:54): 

I want to talk about VR, AR, the metaverse for a moment if we can. 

Byron Allen (11:54): 


James Kotecki (11:59): 

I know The Weather Channel is really on the leading edge of using AR, using graphics to showcase different weather possibilities. Where do you see that going? What are your plans for the metaverse? Do you use the term metaverse or think about that term? 

Byron Allen (12:13): 

We use our MRI, our Mixed Immersed Reality, and we are the leaders there. When I bought The Weather Channel, they thought I was going to cut that budget. And I said, "No, increase it and spend more. We have to be the best. We have to be the leader. And if we're not the best, if we're not the leader, then we're going to perish." So I invest heavily in cutting technology. I said the same thing, we had all of our executives at dinner last night, I said, "We have to step up our game and we have to be the leaders on AI. We have to." You have to use the technology to move you along. When I was a kid and I first went to my television, the first TV convention that I went to was NATPE in January of '81. 


And I met my mentor, a good friend of mine who unfortunately passed away, and he was just like a second father to me. His name was Al Masini. And I said, "Who's the best in the business?" And they said Al Masini. And I went into it, it was at the New York Hilton. And I went upstage upstairs and he was standing there. He was on a stage and he was pitching a show. And he said to them, "I have the world's biggest movie star on my pilot. He's on the set of Smokey and the Bandit. His name is Burt Reynolds, world's biggest movie star." And he said, "I bought..." He goes, "I'm using new technology to deliver you the show." They go, "What's the technology?" He goes, "It's called satellite." Right? 

James Kotecki (12:58): 


Byron Allen (13:37): 

And he said, "I'm going to tape the show at two o'clock." No, "I'm going to tape it at 12:30, and I'm going to put it on the satellite at 2:00, and everybody's going to run the same show at 7:00." He used technology to dominate the television space by launching a show called Entertainment Tonight. There was no Entertainment Tonight without using technology to advance the content. They go hand in hand and you must use it. We did a show called TheGrio Awards recently, and I was told we weren't going to see this blank wall over here. And we were able to use technology to make that wall spectacular by putting up images. You must use the tech. You don't get Avatar without amazing technology. So we are big believers in investing in technology and being the leaders in using that technology and having it work in symphony with our content. 

James Kotecki (14:33): 

Well, Byron Allen, I wish we could talk for a lot longer. Unfortunately, our time now is up, but we hope to have you back here in the C Space Studio. Thanks so much for joining us. 

Byron Allen (14:40): 

All right. Thank you, King James Jr. 

James Kotecki (14:42): 

Thanks for that nickname. I will wear it with pride. Well, I hope you enjoyed that live conversation from CES 2023. Look up the CES C Space Studio for more conversations like that, and get even more CES at ces.tech. That's C-E-S dot T-E-C-H. And of course, please subscribe to this podcast, so you don't miss a moment. I'm James Kotecki, talking tech on CES Tech Talk.