If Jason Santos had stayed the course, he would still be buying up depressed houses, remodeling them and flipping them for a profit, but a chance encounter with a heroic cancer survivor would alter his life forever. Santos – who had always planned to remain first and foremost a real estate investor – was running a boutique medical marijuana collective in L.A. in 2011, when he met a woman who’d weathered 15 cancer surgeries and was in so much pain, she had considered suicide.
Her daughter had recently convinced the woman to give cannabis a try and after consuming an edible at home, she found herself in less pain and with more energy. Then she came into Santos’ store to purchase some edibles. He ended up just giving her 15 to 20 items – “one of everything that made sense for her to try” – he recalls, including tea, honey, snack foods, chocolates and more.
“That gift to her was so important that she held me for 10 minutes in the middle of the shop, crying,” said Santos. “When you’re flipping houses, you don’t have that connection to people.”
That woman “literally changed the course of my life forever,” said Santos, and spurred him to combine his experience in branding and marketing into a new, cannabis-centric media company in the vein of Netflix and Hulu.
Burn TV is based in Playa Del Rey and slated to launch in June, although its website and teaser promo are active now. Through an app, viewers will be able to watch scripted series, animation, comedy, sports, cooking shows and more, some directly related to cannabis and others merely of interest to that demographic.
Initially, Burn TV will offer mostly aggregated content, secured through licensing deals with YouTube channels, brand partnership agreements to redistribute certain shows, and programming from other cannabis media sites, said Santos, the chairman and chief executive officer of Burn Entertainment Corporation. Eventually, Burn TV will produce its own shows, kicking off with a series called My Life, My Story, in which cannabis isn’t the star of the show, but rather the people who are using it are, said Santos. Featured subjects include one man battling muscular dystrophy and another who’s been through the legal ringer trying to keep his cannabis business afloat afloat.
Burn TV aims to be accessible, said Santos, with no subscription fee (at least to start), and available on Apple and Android mobile devices in addition to streaming players such as Roku and Apple TV. As a brand, Burn TV is essentially the “digital media version of Netflix” that’s embodying the cannabis movement, said Santos (and with Netflix earning 54 Emmy nominations this year, this doesn’t seem like a bad model to follow). Ultimately, Santos is hoping Burn TV will do for weed what the early days of MTV did for music.
“We’re an entertainment and lifestyle platform that’s embracing the legal cannabis industry,” said Santos. “What we’re not building is another quote-unquote weed channel.”
Weed media has been on the rise. Cannabis has long been marginalized by traditional media. While marijuana is covered in-depth by cannabis-specific publications such as High Times, it is often overlooked by mainstream print and TV publications. Since the recent expansion of legalization, there’s been a push to not only cover the industry more thoroughly, but build entire media outlets dedicated to it.
The Denver Post, for example, launched The Cannabist, a website independent from the newspaper’s main site that focuses entirely on the weed industry. There’s also DOPE Magazine, HERB Media and even Snoop Dogg’s relatively new Merry Jane, launched in 2015. While digital media outlets may seem like a natural fit for the exploding weed industry, broadcast formats have also been taken up by both start-ups and heavy-hitters alike.
Southern California specifically is becoming a hotbed of new weed media, as the confluence of Silicon Beach tech companies and California’s recreational weed market attracts entrepreneurs of all kinds. In South L.A., Charlo Greene broadcasts The Weed Show five days a week on iTunes, YouTube and Facebook, and just up the coast in Ventura, MMA star Frank Shamrock and two other founders produce Bakeout TV and The Bakeout Show, a program intended to “provide medicinal cannabis educational television of high technical quality.” Even cannabis industry veterans High Times, which was first formed in the ‘70s, heeded the siren call and set up a West Coast office in Los Angeles within the last year.
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Although Santos won’t share specifics about Burn TV’s programming, he emphasized the high-bar for production quality, and judging from the teasing trailer posted on Burn TV’s website, there will be a wide spectrum of programming – a mash-up of late-night Comedy Central, extreme sports on ESPN, reality programming of A&E and much more.
In addition to the entertainment aspects of Burn TV, it’s also providing weed companies with a platform for marketing, branding and product placement, giving them the same advertising opportunities that are afforded every other legal industry. Cannabis is the next “trillion-dollar industry,” said Santos, yet it has “no ability to market itself in a mainstream setting,” as most conventional media outlets don’t advertise cannabis brands.
Making the choice to go into media was a strategic move by Santos, as “murky and unpredictable” laws force many cannabis businesses to operate in a constant gray area, with continued risk of having their operation stripped away at a moment’s notice.
“As a media brand in this industry, especially a digital media brand, we are no longer held hostage by the conflicts between local, state, and federal regulations around the industry,” Santos said in an email. “Our risk lied in the ability to execute and not the ability to legally operate.”