TV mogul on partnership with Sinclair Broadcast Group: 'We can put politics aside'

Max Zahn

An international uproar over the Hong Kong protests recently put Apple (AAPL) and the NBA under intense scrutiny, just as a backlash against President Donald Trump in August ensnared the likes of SoulCycle and Equinox — but one television mogul, who partnered this year with a controversial local news network, says he keeps a strict divide between business and politics.

“You believe what you believe, and I believe what I believe,” Byron Allen tells Yahoo Finance Editor-in-Chief Andy Serwer in a newly released interview, taped in July, before the eruption of controversy over the NBA and China. “I love that about America.”

Allen is chief executive of television conglomerate Entertainment Studios, which recently partnered with Sinclair Broadcast Group (SBGI), the owner of a network of local news stations that have drawn criticism for a perceived conservative bias.

Asked whether Sinclair’s political bent concerns him, Allen says, “I don't let that get in the way. There's business and there's politics. And we can put politics aside.”

A prolific Democratic donor, Allen last year gave $20,000 to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, as well as donations totaling thousands to the campaigns of a number of Democratic Congressional candidates, among them Rep. Katie Hill (D-CA) who recently resigned from office after admitting to an inappropriate relationship with a campaign staffer.

Comedian and media mogul Byron Allen poses for a picture Thursday, Sept. 5, 2019, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)

A perceived conservative bias in Sinclair’s local news coverage goes back more than a decade. However, concerns reached a fever pitch in April, when Sinclair ran promotional videos on its then-193 local affiliates that cautioned viewers about the negative implications of “fake news,” echoing a talking point of Trump’s.

A viral supercut of the promotional segments, put together by Deadspin, showed local anchors nationwide saying the exact same remarks.

Allen made the comments during a conversation that aired in an episode of Yahoo Finance’s “Influencers with Andy Serwer,” a weekly interview series with leaders in business, politics, and entertainment.

Allen came up as a comedian and still performs, but he turned to business 25 years ago when he launched Entertainment Studios Inc. Today, the production company counts nine TV networks to its name. Allen made headlines last year when he acquired the Weather Channel for $300 million.

‘You have your opinion, I have mine’

Allen says he separates business decisions from his personal political views.

“That is why America's great — our democracy. You have your opinion. I have mine. I may not agree with your opinion, Andy, but I will give up my life to defend your right to have it,” he adds.

In August, Allen and other private equity partners teamed up with Sinclair Broadcast Group to acquire 21 regional sports networks once owned by 21st Century Fox (FOX). The acquisition, priced at $9.6 billion, came about after Disney (DIS) agreed to sell the properties as part of its merger with Fox, responding to antitrust concerns over the new entity’s potential ownership of both ESPN and the local stations.

Allen says he has a longstanding business relationship with David Smith, the executive chairman of Sinclair Broadcasting.

“Dave Smith, you know, he and I have a great relationship,” he says. “Dave and I've been doing business together, the head of Sinclair, for over 25 years when he basically had two television stations — Pittsburgh and Baltimore. Now he's about 200-plus TV stations.”

“Let's do the American thing,” he adds. “Let's make some money together.”

Max Zahn is a reporter for Yahoo Finance. Find him on twitter @MaxZahn_.

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