The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear Comcast’s appeal of a 2015 discrimination suit brought by Entertainment Studio’s chief Byron Allen that alleged the media giant conspired to keep African-American owned networks off its systems.
Allen and the National Association of African American Owned Media brought the suit in 2015, claiming damages of $20 billion. A federal court dismissed that suit, but that decision was reversed by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in November. Comcast is asking the Supreme Court to reverse the November Circuit Court decision, adding in a statement that Allen’s claims of a “vast conspiracy” to keep his networks off of Comcast’s cable systems is untrue.
“Comcast has an outstanding record of supporting and fostering diverse programming, including programming from African-American owned channels, two more of which we launched earlier this year,” Comcast said in a statement. “There has been no finding of discriminatory conduct by Comcast against this plaintiff because there has been none.”
The distributor added that it carries more than 100 networks aimed at diverse audiences and that the Ninth Circuit decision was based on an unusual interpretation of the law.
“We believe the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decision was incorrectly decided,” Comcast continued in its statement. “At this stage, the case is about a technical point of law that was decided in a novel way by the Ninth Circuit. We hope the Supreme Court will reverse the Ninth Circuit’s unusual interpretation of the law and bring this case to an end.”
In his own statement, Allen said Entertainment Studios already prevailed in the Ninth Circuit and will do the same in the Supreme Court. He challenged Comcast’s definition of diversity.
“This case is not about African American-themed programming, but is about African American ownership of networks,” Allen said in a statement. “Unfortunately, the networks Comcast refers to as ‘African American-owned' are not wholly-owned by African Americans, and did not get any carriage until I stood up and spoke out about this discrimination and economic exclusion.”
Allen’s Entertainment Studios Networks includes a stable of digital channels across several different genres including Comedy.tv, Pets.tv, channels like Comedy.tv, Cars.tv, JusticeCentral.tv, ES.tv, Mydestination.tv and Recipe.tv. Last year, the company purchased The Weather Channel. In May it purchased TV stations from Bayou City Broadcasting and emerged as a partner in Sinclair Broadcast Group’s purchase of 21 regional sports networks from The Walt Disney Co.
While Allen’s networks have managed to secure carriage deals with other distributors like Verizon, Dish Network and DirecTV, it has found it to be a harder sell with Comcast and Charter Communications. Allen claims that both Comcast and Charter -- which have 22 million and 16 million video customers, respectively, -- have launched dozens of white-owned networks over the years.
Allen sued Charter Communications in 2016 for $10 billion, also claiming discrimination. Charter had tried to get the suit dismissed based on its First Amendment right not to carry the channels, but was rejected by lower courts. Charter appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court on that issue, but the court hasn’t decided if it will hear the case.