When respected media theorist Marshall McLuhan said “the medium is the message,” he reasoned when a message is conveyed powerfully, medium and message become one. That’s especially true in America, where onscreen validation is often necessary before a product or personality can be marketed to the masses.
Right now, marijuana is the message, and 420TV wants to be the streaming media platform for that message whether on a widescreen, 4K-HDR LED smart TV in the living room or the smartphone in the palm of your hand.
“I’m glad to say I feel like we’re doing something different and telling the story just in the way people in the cannabis industry have been telling it for a long time–but amongst friends,” 420TV co-founder and partner Alex Nahai said. “We’re trying to proliferate that [message] and put that story out there in a larger way.
“I, along with my partners, basically felt there was a void in the marketplace for a channel that was going to give people insight into the industry that was a little bit different,” he continued. “There’s a niche for people who really respect the industry and the culture, and I think there’s a real story to tell that the existing media out there is either telling in a derogatory way or in a tongue-in-cheek, stoner-type way. If there is positive observational stuff, it’s a lot of low-quality content out there that doesn’t really do the best job of telling the story.
“So, that’s what we’re doing.”
A robust Distribution Platform
Nahai partnered with media movers Dan Goman and Nick Nelson. Goman is founder and chief executive officer of OWNZONES Media Network, with time spent at Microsoft and Nokia. His expertise includes over-the-top (OTT)streaming, on-demand, and mobile networks and how to offer content on all of them. Nelson is head of products and innovation at OWNZONES and formerly was head of product-creative at a little movie platform called Netflix, with which many cannabis consumers probably already are familiar.
Nahai has a considerable background in entertainment and law. After graduating with a law degree from the University of Southern California in 2013, he’s worked for United Talent Agency (UTA), William Morris, and Capitol Music Group, where he was vice president of A&R and business affairs.
Among other things, Goman and Nelson are dedicated to developing content that will appeal to both “the converted and the curious,” a phrase taken from the network’s tagline.
“‘The curious’ is the real opportunity,” Nelson said. “As cannabis becomes more mainstream, people don’t look at it through a negative lens and really understand that it’s beyond some of the stereotypes that have existed in the past. So, as it’s connected to things like content that has high production value, it makes [cannabis products and lifestyle] more ‘real’ and desensitizes people to it in a positive way.”
“In my opinion, I think it’s really high time something like this came along,” Goman added, pun fully intended. “Given the change in the whole discussion around this topic, and the change in attitude across the country–the top leadership of this country aside, I think most people are moving in a direction that’s a little bit more open and more honest.”
In fact, once 420TV is up and streaming, a lot of curious people who never saw cannabis-related content before suddenly will have that opportunity. With a soft launch scheduled for the end of January and official launch at the end of February, 420TV will stream on a variety of devices. Programming will showcase all-original content, developed to present new perspectives on the pro-cannabis lifestyle and culture. Super-high production values will be captured in digital 4K high definition at various U.S. and global locations and offer a complete range of content, including news and entertainment.
“At launch, we’ll have our dotcom experience and app,” Goman said. “We’ll have iOS and Android experiences, with capability of Airplay and Chromecast for mobile experiences. And then we’ll be on Metrological, which is a box that’s fairly advanced. It’s in Europe, kind of similar to the Comcast X1 box. So, we’ll have penetration in Europe, as well as globally, on our iOS, Android, and dotcom. Then, the plan is to quickly roll out Roku, Amazon Fire, Apple TV, and all of these other complementary devices that continue to broaden accessibility.”
In the build-up to the January launch, 420TV announced the addition of original animated series Super Slackers, which will be helmed by longtime The Simpsons director David Silverman. The cartoon’s plot “follows a group of friends who discover they have superpowers after their weed is switched with a new strain being used in a government experiment.”
As an extra, added dose of appeal for online fans, Super Slackers characters will be voiced by social media influencers and personalities including hip-hop artist/actor Jerry Purpdrank; video/music producer and slap-cammer Max Jr.; martial artist, dancer, and comedian Dan Nampaikid; professional soccer player turned actor, director, and content creator Jon Paul Piques; Smosh YouTube star Olivia Sui; stand-up comedian/writer Arantza Fahnbulleh; and traditional actor/comedian Mickey Gooch, who appeared in How to Be Single.
“From a creative standpoint, I think it’s a unique show,” Nelson said of the animated series. “It’s not only bold in the new area of cannabis, but we’ve also taken a unique view on casting by using social influencers as the voice actors, and we’re really hoping to create momentum by having people that are already well-known and outspoken on social media coming into a show that’s sort of a classic mix of different characters, all backed by the voice of one of the writers from The Simpsons. So, creatively, I’m just super-excited about the show. I think it has a lot of legs.”
The cast’s lack of concern about any negative connotations attached to cannabis is notable, Goman added, indicating younger demographics are ready for a new narrative. “There didn’t seem to be any reticence at all from these younger celebrities, if you will, about getting involved with something like this,” he said. “We were having discussions with the team that produced this even before the idea for 420TV came along. They came to us and we started talking about, ‘Here’s a cannabis idea that we have. One, can we make it happen? Two, what’s the right vehicle to distribute this?’ I think it was like a perfect set of events that all came together. About the same time, we started talking about 420TV. The subject fit perfectly, and everything just sort of gelled.”
With regard to advertisers from the cannabis industry and more traditional markets, is there reticence, still, about going public with support for medical and recreational marijuana? Nahai, Goman, and Nelson feel cannabis topics reached a tipping point quite some time ago. Now, increasing legalization has forced media to catch up with the Green Rush.
“We’ve reached a point where it’s like Pandora’s box has been opened. Just a few months ago, Constellation Brands [parent company of Corona Beer] announced they were buying a minority stake in a Canadian pot company,” Goman observed. “We were moving forward with this even before that, but I think things like that and the increasing acceptance overall and the awareness… Frankly, there’s more than one angle to cannabis.
“I think what you’ll see [with 420TV] is high-quality programming and different perspectives being brought to the forefront and discussed that, in some cases, haven’t been discussed before,” he continued. “So, given that context, we’ve been seeing a lot of major brand interest being generated and we are in discussions, though we haven’t agreed to anything yet. They are very much interested. Some are taking the approach ‘let’s just wait and see what happens.’ But I think increasingly we’re seeing people getting off the sidelines and moving forward with advertising on our network, so we’re very encouraged.”
After legal consideration, 420TV will launch with age-verification technology to keep underage users off the platform and provide advertisers with a safer online environment to promote their products. Still, as a first-time media venture, the trio of partners expect to encounter a few precedent-setting situations.
“To the advertising community at large, I think the message is ‘we have done all the things we can reasonably do,’” Goman said. “We’re compliant and not running afoul of any regulations. For instance, we’ve engaged law firms that have helped recommend things like an age gate and other mechanisms that we are putting in place to make sure it’s an environment that works and doesn’t run afoul of the law.
“Now, having said all that, keep in mind that this is all new and I look at ourselves as trailblazers,” he continud. “We may be, in some cases, the first ones to discover a number of things. We are, in fact, pioneers and I think it’s going to be an interesting ride. There’s an opportunity to jump on board and be part of this unique, historic opportunity.”
Nelson added, “We’re committed to building out that whole experience. “Advertisers are really going to be able to grow with us because we’re dedicated to building product into the actual experience itself and really being able to give advertisers more of a voice in a very subtle, seamless way–like product pages and placement of products correlated to the shows or within the shows.”
Another important aspect of placement for advertising partners is the network’s data-gathering abilities. If everything flows as planned, 420TV will offer vendors and marketers a chance to watch the behavior in cannabis-interested consumer niches.
“We’ve seen in [search engine optimization] trends that there’s just tons of people searching for questions that they want answered, like ‘How does cannabis affect me?’ and ‘How do I cook with it?’ and ‘What’s CBD oil?’ There’s just so many questions out there that aren’t being answered very well,” Nelson said.
“We have a lot of data analytics going on from Day One,” he continued. “So, there’s going to be a really unique opportunity for advertisers to see how their products correlate to certain shows, which is really fundamental. You haven’t been able to correlate cannabis products with high-production-value shows and say, ‘Hey, people that like animation also tend to like my product.’”
Stars Are Born
By his own admission, Nahai is an entertainment guy with a strong legal bent. At UTA, he worked with recognizable names like Bob Seger, Celine Dion, Jeff Dunham, Jerry Seinfeld, Daryl Hall and John Oates, and Rick Springfield, among others. There’s no doubt the cannabis culture will yield a whole crop of new personalities, he said, and he, Goman, and Nelson hope to launch a few of them on 420TV.
“For example, Dr. Dina is someone who I’m a big fan of, and I first learned about her because her agent and I worked together at UTA. I was really interested in what she was doing because I looked at her as a thought leader,” Nahai said. Pioneering dispensary founder “Dr. Dina” Browner will host cannabis travel show Top Shelf with Dr. Dina for 420TV.
“So, when we decided to do this channel, I was like well, here’s somebody that has credibility within the industry, who’s well-respected within the industry. Let’s put her on the air,” Nahai said. “We want to put those types of people on the air, and we want to help to create stars through this channel.”
He continued, “One of the hosts we have for one of our shows, which hasn’t been announced yet–but stay tuned and you’ll see that announcement–is somebody who works at a cultivation facility. We just thought she was charismatic and had the right mix of confidence and personality for one of our shows.”
Nahai also hinted a major mainstream music celebrity is ready to reveal more about their pro-cannabis views on the new network. In fact, the list of people ready to “come out” for cannabis includes more than one celebrity, as well as other mainstream entertainment entities Nahai can’t talk about just yet. Of course, all this and more are bound to happen in this brave, new market.
Nahai, Goman, and Nelson are aware of the concerns of some in the industry, who fear authenticity and real roots will be lost or the real message of marijuana will be misunderstood once the cannabis lifestyle is exposed on a multi-level, mass-market, streaming-media platform.
“But then, the message is so much greater than that,” Nahai said. “We’re talking about, for example, medical applications of cannabis. So, people with illnesses, which are a lot of people, may be interested in how cannabis can help them. Entrepreneurs might be interested in seeing what kind of opportunities there are. Or people who are interested in politics–this is a big, big political issue. We’re going to relate to a lot of people.”