Even before Naomi Burton and Nick Hayes started filming the political video that would change their lives, they had bigger plans than just campaign advertising. Soon after starting Means of Production in January 2017, Burton and Hayes began traveling the country filming podcasts, comedy shows, and other entertainment that featured progressive, leftist, anti-capitalist themes such as the Street Fight radio show and podcast. “We didn’t know exactly what we would do with them,” Burton says, “but we knew we had these skills, and we talked about this idea.”
Although the duo gained national attention last May for creating the viral spot for then-aspiring congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and the Detroit-based team continued to make powerful, emotional ads for democratic socialist candidates heading into the 2018 midterms, “this idea”–news and entertainment with a working-class, socialist bent–was always their goal.
Last week, Burton and Hayes launched a 10-week fundraising campaign for Means TV, a new streaming service, to turn their dream into reality.
“We even talked about this idea with Alexandria when we were in New York [last year],” says Hayes. “America is dominated by corporate media, and if there’s no worker-owned media that really exists, you’re not going to see any ideas that really threaten the hegemony.”
Means TV’s debut comes at a particularly apt time, given the effects of corporate consolidation and Big Tech’s incursion into streaming media. The Disney-Fox merger, which closed last week, has resulted in somewhere north of 3,000 layoffs and one less buyer. Apple’s entry into original TV and film production has come with reports that the company will eschew any programming that includes political or religious views or could in any way be considered controversial. Meanwhile, TV and screenwriters, represented by the Writer Guild of America West, voted overwhelmingly this weekend to support its union’s efforts to challenge how their agents have reputedly put their own interests ahead of their clients as their ambitions have grown well beyond talent representation.
Hayes and Burton want to create a service that not only offers more humane treatment of its creative community but also gives leftist and left-curious viewers a single home for everything from animated comedy to scripted and reality shows to quick explainers, produced explicitly without the kind of restrictions or corporate watering down more prevalent elsewhere. Means TV will be a subscription streaming service that will cost $10 per month, but it plans to publish content across social and YouTube to counter the legions of right-wing content creators on those platforms.
So far, Means TV collaborators include director and comedian Sara June, Brett Payne, and Bryan Quinby of the Street Fight podcast, comedian Arish Singh, and more. Leftist magazine Jacobin is also a partner, and will have a channel on the platform featuring what Hayes calls “Vice-style on-the-ground journalism” with their reporters, as well as explainer-type videos.
Sara June says she wanted to work with Means TV, because it’s already a place that isn’t afraid of pushing the envelope, and isn’t beholden to corporate ownership. “I’m doing animated sketch shows, the same kind of stuff I’d be pitching to Adult Swim if Adult Swim hired women,” says June. “[Burton and Hayes] just happen to be the people who are most interested in the ideas I’m interested in.”
June says another advantage of having a place for socialist, anti-capitalist content is to help people talk about these concepts and ideas in a different way.
“One piece of feedback we get a lot is that people want to be able to show it to their friends and family, to help explain this stuff without asking their family to go listen to a five-hour podcast,” says June. “Things are just opening up so much, in terms of what’s acceptable to discuss in American politics. There are a ton of articles around about how socialism is no longer a dirty word, but the reason that is is because people are talking about it in larger spaces.”
Burton and Hayes say Means TV will be a worker collective, with creators and staff having ownership of their work and a stake in the success of the platform. They add that it’s a challenge to work with only union crew and writers, particularly in collaborating with mostly younger contributors and being based in Detroit. Despite this, as Hollywood continues to reckon with its own inequality issues, Burton and Hayes say they’re committed to paying union-scale wages, and have spoken to Writers Guild of America organizers about unionizing in the near future.
The goal of the 10-week crowdfunding campaign is to raise $500,000, after which they plan to take a few months to build up more of a content archive before a full launch later this year. Dubbed the Bread and Roses campaign (a phrase with deep roots in equality and workers’ rights), Means will be releasing original work every weekday that’s both educational (bread) and entertaining (roses). In the first week, they’ve raised more than $20,000, or about 5% of their goal. The Means TV YouTube page has attracted more than 128,000 subscribers in its first week, thanks to a major boost from a 2011 viral video called Nyan Cat. The owner of the original video, with more than 100 million views, is a friends and donated it to the page.
Burton and Hayes know that amid the launch and growth of so many major streaming services and content initiatives, whether it’s Disney, WarnerMedia, Apple TV+, or Netflix, Means TV is a minnow. But they’re counting on its differentiation being its biggest strength. “There’s a reason that rich guys want to own all the media. All of the content that we see is political,” says Burton. “The CEO of Netflix has literally given hundreds of millions of dollars to charter schools in L.A., to privatize the school system there. All of our money is going towards something. Why not have it go towards something that empowers us?”
Disclosure: Fast Company editorial staff is in the process of unionizing and is represented by the Writers Guild of America-East.