On Toke.tv, a marijuana-centric livestreaming app based in downtown L.A., users broadcast themselves rolling joints, packing bowls and admiring their bongs. Between hits, they talk about what’s on their mind.
User @silenttoker expressed her annoyance that a McDonald’s had run out of Fanta Orange. Another woman held her cat up to the camera. A recent @treeofgreens livestream begins with a guy laid out on the couch before he repairs to a patio to take dabs with his buddies. The video lasts 92 minutes.
Their audiences send their appreciation with short messages and a constant stream of heart and cloud icons that bubble up on the screen. Like Facebook Live or Periscope, the streamers see the messages and can respond in real time. Cultivators, glassblowers and other specialists also have found an online home on the app.
The company thinks it can elevate the time-honored pastime of watching other people get stoned into a significant business. “This is the reality TV of weed,” CEO Miguel Sugay said.
Livestreaming through Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, YouTube and other platforms is a fast-growing activity online, but the major companies have sent mixed signals about their willingness to be involved with marijuana.
Instead of holding cannabis users at arm's length, or booting them, Toke.tv makes stoners feel comfortable. For users, Sugay compares it to the difference between “being at the biggest bar, or a bar that you like.”
While L.A.’s “plant-touching” businesses, like grows and dispensaries, are still fretting about enforcement, L.A. has become a hub for marijuana media companies, which have less to worry about from law enforcement.
After more than 40 years in New York, High Times moved to L.A. in January. A group of about 20 investors subsequently acquired a controlling stake in the company, valuing it at $70 million. In July, it announced plans to go public. Snoop Dogg’s media company, Merry Jane, also is based here.
While the app is still in beta, Sugay says it has grown to more than 20,000 users and attracted popular online personalities such as @DabbingGranny and @StonedGamer.
Sitting on the roof of the company’s penthouse office downtown, Sugay scrolls through a few streams before settling on two women talking about strains. “This is something these girls would be doing anyway,” he said.
There are numerous ways to monetize a large audience of marijuana users, such as from advertising to dispensaries using it to attract customers. “You build a [minimum viable product] and then iterate,” Sugay says.
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Sugay, who is compact and athletic, was varsity coxswain on the Stanford crew team. He grew up in Glendale and has been building startups since before he graduated in 2010. Toke.tv has raised more than $2 million in venture capital.
Sugay didn’t smoke pot in college but is now a regular user. He talks so fast it can be hard to keep up with him. On Toke.tv, he hosts a daily stream called “marijuana motivation,” a string of shoutouts to his users and encouragement to “stay meducated,” a state he describes as using cannabis in a “eloquent, productive, socially impactful way.”
Toke.tv was inspired by Twitch, a platform for watching other people play video games online. Amazon acquired Twitch in 2014 for $970 million. At the time, Twitch had accumulated 15 billion minutes of content and users logged in, on average, for more than 100 minutes each day. Cannabis and video games both are known to attract very devoted audiences.
That year, the Wall Street Journal reported, Twitch accounted for almost 2 percent of all Internet traffic, more than any company except Netflix, Google and Apple.