In the short parody video Healthcare Hacks, a perky "19-year-old" Bryanna Copay sits in front of a pink background, offering a "hack" for people who were recently kicked off their parents' insurance before getting their wisdom teeth removed. "Tie each string around one wisdom tooth and tie the loose ends to the doorknob, then get a good friend to slam the door," instructs Copay with a smile and blood gushing out of her mouth. "Chomp on those tampons before you pass out from pain or blood loss!"
Healthcare Hacks is one of the dozens of videos speaking to healthcare affordability, socialism, gentrification, labor exploitation, and other leftist causes that you can access on the recently launched Means TV, a streaming service based out of Detroit. It bills itself as "the world’s first worker-owned, post-capitalist streaming service." Think of it as Netflix for the left.
Taking no money from corporations or venture capitalists, the service is funded by subscribers (for around $10 a month) and uses a cooperative model, meaning it's owned by its workers. They won't be billions of dollars in debt to create forgettable TV series or paying millions to keep Friends on their platform. Rather, Means TV seeks to promote filmmakers and creators who make media that explores the effects of capitalism on modern society and lights a way for an alternative future.
Co-creators Naomi Burton and Nick Hayes were intentional about labeling themselves as post-capitalist. "When we first started out, we were calling it 'anticapitalist' more," Burton explained to me over the phone recently. "People can understand what that meant a little bit more than post-capitalist. But as we evolved, the content on Means TV isn't just anticapitalist. The idea is that it ideally provides different ideas of the world we could build outside of capitalism."
"We exist within capitalism, unfortunately, but our goal as a cooperative is to create the cultural conditions that lead to a socialist or communist revolution," Hayes said. "Our collective goal is the abolition of capitalism."
Means TV offers films, documentaries, and TV shows from around the world that explore issues pertaining to the working class, fascism, immigration, etc. They also feature original content in the form of live weekly shows covering news, gaming, sports, and the working class. The service won't be strictly hard-hitting and serious content, but also include animation series, comedies, and other lighter fare that still addresses issues they are concerned about.
"We want people to be able to come onto the platform and watch something that examines the effects of gentrification, but after a super heavy thing like that, you need to be able to laugh," said Hayes.
The seed for Means TV was planted in 2017 when Burton and Hayes left their jobs in video production and media strategy for big automobile companies in Detroit. Compelled to act after joining the Democratic Socialist of America in their city, the duo started Means of Production, a cooperative that specifically focused on making videos for labor unions and other leftist political campaigns and causes.
The couple was then propelled into the spotlight after making a smart and effective political ad video for Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's 2018 campaign, which soon went viral. They went on to produce several more videos for labor causes and political campaigns across the country. That momentum—as well as a desire to see more leftist content in general—helped them make the decision to start Means TV.
After less than a week of operation, the streaming service has 2,200 active subscribers, surpassing (delightfully) both Burton and Hayes's expectations. As their subscriber base grows, so will their library. This morning saw the debut of Means Morning News which streams live every Thursday from Washington D.C. Hosted by Sam Knight and Sam Sacks, the show broadcasts weekly news updates, interviews, guests, and news analysis with a decidedly leftist lens. In the upcoming 2020 general election, the show will undoubtedly become a cornerstone of service.
"Entertainment is so exploited as it is now and especially as these corporations continue to consolidate power. Five companies control 90% of the entertainment and media that's put out in the US right now," said Burton. "That's only gonna continue to shrink and the working conditions are only going to continue to get worse. It's important for us to be worker-owned and for us to have anti-capitalist content, as part of the mission to show people that we can work differently."