What if Hulu was worker-owned? Or Netflix only provided a platform for content that was anti-capitalist? What if Amazon had morals? Well, those things are probably never going to happen, but maybe that’s okay, because a new media company has just launched which embodies all of those characteristics. And, with the threat of further media consolidation in a post-coronavirus world, their project couldn’t be more timely.
Formally launched in February, Means TV is the world’s first worker-owned, post-capitalist streaming service. After a successful crowd-funding campaign that raised just under $200,000, Means TV boasts a library that includes a live weekly morning news show, a live sports talk show, a live video gaming show and a whole catalog of feature-length narrative and documentary films. It’s also all completely subscriber funded, with no ads and no venture capital money.
We spoke with Means TV co-founder Nick Hayes about why they decided to take the cooperative route and how Means TV aims not just to provide anti-capitalist media, but also to build a “long-standing, worker-owned media infrastructure that reflects and empowers the 99%.”
Robert Raymond: Means TV is more than just a worker cooperative — it’s all firmly rooted within a rejection of the traditional media landscape. Can you describe where this critique comes from?
Nick Hayes: Streaming services we watch like Amazon and Netflix and Hulu are owned by billionaires who are, in Netflix’s case, individually working to pour millions into privatizing local public schools, for example. And on the other end of it, their shareholders are people like BlackRock who are invested heavily in defense and military spending and fossil fuels, human detention centers — all the bad shit. Those same people shouldn’t be making our entertainment. Those same people shouldn’t be financing our comedy or running our news. The reason why they’re invested in those things — the reason why they’re investing in entertainment media specifically — is because they know that if they can control the narrative, then they can replicate the culture that allows them to exist. Means TV is really founded out of a critique of that. We want to do entertainment differently. We want to make entertainment that reflects and empowers the working class.
So, for example, we don’t want to portray people through characters that live in some urban loft that has eight rooms, where none of them have a job — or only a few of them have a job — and they’re not struggling to pay their rent. That’s not relatable for working class people, and it’s boring. But that’s increasingly what we’re being spoon-fed by these entertainment companies and streaming services. We want to make entertainment that feels like it’s relevant to young people, to working people.
We’re interested in challenging power. We’re interested in featuring voices that for so long have been cast out of mainstream media — like socialists, like communists, like anarchists. We want to amplify that perspective. And, if you look at polling, over half of young people today prefer socialism over capitalism, but there’s no entertainment to meet that audience. That’s what Means TV is here to do.
I’m curious about the cooperative element of the business. What does that mean to you? Why is it important to structure the business in that particular way?
My co-founder Naomi Burton and I were both originally hesitant to launch Means TV because neither of us wants to be a small business owner; neither of us wants to run a small business. That’s a lot of pressure, that’s a lot of stress. All the small business owners I know are struggling, and we didn’t want that. The idea of running a cooperative was very appealing, both as a person trying to start a business, [and] as a young person with less experience. From a socialist perspective, the idea of increasing workplace democracy and giving people an ownership stake in their work sounded good.
Young people today — and working people at any time — are used to workplaces and bosses being domineering, and if we want to change our society, we’re going to have to change the nature of work. We’re going to have to change what work looks like, and I think the cooperative model provides a path for that.
We have different classes of membership within our co-op for full-time workers, for contracted workers who receive royalties, and for the people who contribute content. The idea being that those people should have a say in what the co-op is doing, and get a pay-out of the co-op’s annual profit.
What are some of the biggest challenges that you all are facing right now as a business — specifically a cooperatively owned business?
Being a co-op that isn’t going to take any investor money certainly makes it so that there aren’t a lot of avenues for getting a loan from a bank or being able to access any amount of short-term financing or anything like that. In other other countries there are federal programs where co-ops can get like $20,000 from the government in startup funds. Something like that certainly feels like it would be helpful, but for now we’ve just been able to be nimble, to be smart and just raise that money from people.
What’s your ultimate vision, and where are you in that vision at this point? What are you projecting in terms of the future of Means TV?
Our goal is to create a way for people on the left to get paid for their content and have people see it. We’re also looking into other interesting realms like video game production, podcast networks, and things like that. So we’re exploring other avenues as well to deliver this message. But I think there’s a lot of room to grow right now, and we’re just trying to really make sure we deliver on what Means TV is to people.
This hasn’t really been done before. We always say we’re trying to create the most equitable model to deliver the type of products we’re delivering. And I think over time, naturally, as we grow, as more people get involved, we’re going to have to change the way the co-op operates, the way the co-op is structured — and we’re totally open to that. We’re embracing the idea that this is going to adapt, this is going to change, and it’s on us to operate in good faith and try to make sure this is as good a place to work as possible.