Mark Bradley, founder and CEO of Players Network (OTCQB: PNTV), talks with Opportunist’s Managing Editor Leslie Stone about his company’s branded entertainment network, its on-demand digital channel destinations and its foray into the medical marijuana industry.
A visionary is defined as someone who not only has the instinct to see beyond the norm but also the courage to act on that instinct. When Mark Bradley showed up in Las Vegas for the opening of Hard Rock Café almost 24 years ago to the day, the then 27-year-old budding producer/director stumbled onto an idea that would change the course of his life. “I looked around and realized there was no media coverage around gaming,” he says. “Right then and there, I decided I wanted to launch the gaming cable channel—the ESPN of gaming—but I also knew nobody was going to give a kid $100 million to start his own channel.” [Laughs]
Not one to be deterred, Bradley, who had worked with United Artists and had been a studio manager and post production supervisor with United Cable Television, struck out on his own and started offering in-room gaming instructional videos to Las Vegas casino hotels. He already had years of experience to draw from in production, packaging and syndication of TV and film for such media venues as HBO, Nickelodeon and MTV, as well as in creating live pay-per-view events and negotiating distribution deals. And he had created the first 24-hour real estate broadcast network while barely out of his teens.
Bradley’s in-room channel concept was such a hit that, by 1993, he had officially formed the Players Network. “We were customizing content relative to each hotel’s entertainment, events and membership clubs,” he explains. “Literally thousands of people staying at Las Vegas hotels were watching our network every day. We replaced VHS tape decks with all-digital file servers that were essentially refrigerator-size contraptions with four 9-gig hard drives—today’s smartphones have more power—but they were ahead of their time in the ‘90s. We put them in hotels and created scheduled programming, not even realizing we had invented the first branded entertainment network. This was our entry into the TV market that brought the company to where it is today. This technology is the platform all the major cable companies eventually adopted for their server-based content. Nowadays, people have DVRs that let them skip past commercials, but our content was the commercial. By creating gaming content to a targeted community of people staying in a Vegas hotel, minus the technology, we were using the premise that eventually became a social community platform—sort of like a Facebook—because we were creating relevant content that people were sharing.”
For more than 15 years Players Network has provided consumers with quality gaming and Las Vegas lifestyle content, as well as strategic partnership services in Las Vegas, Atlantic City and the worldwide gaming industry. Bradley took the company public as PNTV in 1998 and continues to be the driving force behind its growth from a Las Vegas in-room channel to a national cable network available in nearly 30 million TV homes. The network’s leading channels include the Las Vegas and gaming lifestyle-focused Players Network, Vegas On Demand and Sexy Sin City TV, which are distributed over their own video on demand (VOD) channels on TV via Comcast and its own broadband network, Hulu, Blinkx, Google, YouTube and Yahoo Video, mobile platforms and worldwide TV syndication.
About nine years ago, at the height of televised poker matches, Comcast approached Players Network to help it launch a server-based content network for Comcast’s new VOD platform. “Based on a test run, Players Network successfully delivered substantial viewership numbers,” Bradley says. “We entered into an unprecedented 10-year distribution and partnership agreement with them, which led to the creation of Vegas On Demand—a 24/7 gaming and Vegas lifestyle channel on Comcast’s VOD platform. Within the first year of our launch it became one of Comcast’s highest viewed VOD channels ever—with over 60 million videos viewed to date. After that, we launched our Vegas On Demand TV channel on AT&T Uverse, Verizon FiOS, DirecTV and Dish Network. We were one of the first companies to have our own branded video channel on Google, and one of the few independent producers to get our own Hulu channel. This move increased our viewership by millions of homes, but revenue on these new platforms couldn’t keep up with distribution growth so we decided to enhance the channel experience by integrating social networks, user-generated video, discount clubs and mobile platforms to both create viral social media promotion and to monetize our viewership.”
Opportunist: Please tell us about your web-based NexGenTV enterprise.
Mark Bradley: NexGenTV took three years of intense development to become a reality. It’s a scalable platform that can be used to launch what we call ‘Digital Channel Destinations’ in hundreds of different lifestyle categories besides our Las Vegas venue. We monetize NexGenTV’s content that creates revenues far beyond traditional TV advertising and subscription models, but through community building, data mining, merchandising, marketing and aggregating consumers in lifestyle categories that sponsors and advertisers want to reach. Our philosophy is to combine social networks with broadband networks. Most people with Facebook and YouTube and other new media platforms that develop and post content about their business or service or brand aren’t media experts. Our approach is to create a professional service company that partners with businesses and individuals to help them create a digital platform and channel using our technology. We basically help them write, produce and direct videos and all other kinds of media—even photos, blogs and trending content—and link it into all the digital media through a series of APIs [application programming interfaces]. We put content up on our channel and link it to as many as 150 others platforms, which creates an entire distribution network for a brand. In a nutshell, we are developing brands with other people as partners that have existing audiences and customer bases, in addition to cherry picking some brands, content and channels for ourselves. With the booming legal medical marijuana industry, for example, we couldn’t turn down the opportunity to create our very own channel called WeedTV.
Opportunist: You have a TV channel especially devoted to marijuana?
Mark Bradley: It’s another one of our lifestyle channel destinations powered by our NexGenTV platform. It’s the go-to source for information, entertainment, products and services for people who relate to the marijuana lifestyle and social community. On the channel, we feature daily editorial content from our correspondents and contributors from around the world, video and entertainment, business and political news, financial analysis, growing and cooking tips, and even a ‘Weed101’ section and an online store.
Opportunist: Why did you decide to head in that direction?
Mark Bradley: It will most likely be the fastest growing industry sector in the U.S. and the world for the next seven to 10 years. When we took camera crews to Denver for the 4/20 rally, we were expecting to see people in tie-dye shirts and rose-colored glasses walking around stoned. On one side of the event they were, but on the other side there were businessmen wearing suits and ties, medical professionals and scientists. It was interesting to see these distinct personality types converge together, but what I found exciting was all the entrepreneurs and startup businesses. We went into WeedTV thinking social media group and came out thinking Wow, the medical marijuana industry and the CBD [cannabidiol] industry is incredible to be involved with—a true multibillion professional growth industry. Based on this experience we realigned our thinking and took a completely different approach focusing more on information and education to help share with the world what we were learning. Upon returning to Vegas, we decided to apply for our own medical marijuana dispensary, cultivation and production licenses so we can have firsthand access to this industry and also create significant revenues.
We also plan to create a wellness, education, research and media center where the general public can learn about the industry and get access to resources. Yes, there is some lifestyle involved in it—the recreational side has certainly been around longer than the medicinal side—but it will be a destination to come in and meet medical professionals and naturalists and eat healthy foods and be on video and create programming and go to the store and purchase medical marijuana if customers have a card to do so. What’s exciting is that more states will have the marijuana issue on the ballot in November. Nevada is now accepting applications for dispensaries and cultivators and we have decided to capitalize on that by putting a WeedTV studio inside a dispensary.
Opportunist: Will it be similar to a theme park?
Mark Bradley: Not a theme park but the world’s leading medical and education destination where people can come and learn. The state will make decisions on who gets licensed, and if we get licensed we intend to create an18,000-square-foot medical and educational pavilion in central Las Vegas adjacent to our dispensary. We plan to have a vegan café called Munchies Healthy Gourmet, a media center and TV studio for education and entertainment content development that will be made available to accredited nonprofit organizations that want to create community outreach programs. We want to reset the bar and create a high quality experience, and we expect to create synergy for national and global events that are hosted in Las Vegas, such as industry expos, music festivals and educational seminars.
Opportunist: Where will you get products for your dispensary?
Mark Bradley: We already formed a private company called Green Leaf Farms Holdings, Inc., which will own the legalized medical marijuana assets I spoke about. Green Leaf has financial backers and cannabis industry executives in place to facilitate the development and operation of these assets, and we have an amazing team of attorneys, operators, cultivation, medical and health experts and even established dispensary operators involved. Players Network owns 80 percent of the holding company and our key experts and advisors hold the other 20 percent.
Opportunist: How are you legally able to do all of this?
Mark Bradley: Nevada laws. The 10th Amendment gives states the right to supersede other governments. Of the 40 million people who visit Nevada annually, if only 1 percent have a medical marijuana card that’s 400,000 people who will need access to local dispensaries. It’s a very unique opportunity for Nevada, especially Las Vegas. This doesn’t exist anywhere else in the country that I know of. Our goal is to expand Green Leaf into other states as we are legally able to do so. Major drug companies are behind the scenes lobbying against companies like ours and the growth of this market because they know many people will chose to use medical marijuana instead of buying expensive, synthetic medicine, but legalized marijuana has proven to reduce crime, especially in Colorado, and we are seeing more misdemeanors than felonies. It’s also bringing down the cost of drug trafficking and border control.
Opportunist: How have your shareholders taken to the idea?
Mark Bradley: Before I decided to do this I was tiptoeing on eggshells, but when I asked two different groups of shareholders what they thought—and lots of doctors and professionals are involved in this company—I was overwhelmingly shocked when nine out of 10 said, ‘Yeah, we should do it.’ In fact, I’ve never had anything in my life fall into place like this venture. It feels as if a lifetime of angels are hovering above me because we needed a scientist, and boom I was on the phone with one the next day. Then I thought, I need an investor and the next thing I know there’s more investors in line than we could talk to. I’ve had to turn away more money than I’ve ever had to turn away in the past. This will be one the biggest industries in our lifetime; the most unlikely people were lining up to invest in Green Leaf Holdings, but because of regulations and extensive background checks we had to limit participation. At this time if they want to own a share of Green Leaf Farms, they will just have to own a piece of Players Network.
Opportunist: Have you encountered much direct competition?
Mark Bradley: Of course there’s a lot of competition on the media side of our business. There are plenty of other video channels and social networks out there. However, because of our customized approach in providing professional services and partnering with lifestyle brands that have existing audiences, we aren’t competing the way we would if we were just a social media channel.
Lots of people are applying for licenses in the medical marijuana industry. Some are qualified and others aren’t. We think we’ve put together an amazing team and we have a good chance of becoming licensed with one or more medical marijuana businesses.
Opportunist: Where do you see the company five years from now?
Mark Bradley: My goal is to be the top media brand for the medical marijuana industry and to have between 40 and 50 cultivation and dispensary operations throughout the U.S. By then everything will probably be fully approved by the federal government. From a media standpoint, we are looking to have at least 20 networks that don’t just include Vegas and marijuana. They will also include: extreme sports, financial, nightlife and political channels, to name a few, with many amazing categories. My expectation is that we will probably sell the company to a major drug, alcohol or tobacco company for as much as $10 billion. Yes, that’s what I said, though it might be somewhat a figure of speech for a very large number. But if you look at the valuations of standalone cable networks in the billions, the massive values of mobile applications, technology and new media companies combined with being a major player in what may be the biggest opportunity in medical marijuana in our lifetime, add a public company multitable and do the math. The numbers are very big.
We have reinvented ourselves four times now, and from an opportunist standpoint we have evolved into something better each time. Circumstances pushed us into certain directions for certain reasons. We are innovators and pioneers in the digital space. We were successful in VOD because the industry was ripe for it, and we helped put Comcast into the VOD program business before they were willing to take the risk on their own. We created NexGenTV and WeedTV, which had led us to our cultivation and dispensary operations. Yes, we are on the verge of some very big things.
Opportunist: Is there anything you would like to say to potential investors?
Mark Bradley: From the standpoint of a public company, I believe we are significantly undervalued. We have a potential multimillion-dollar settlement with Comcast, which people can read about on public websites and which is backed by highly experienced attorneys who would not be involved if the case did not have merit. There is substantial interest in Green Leaf Farms Holdings and, if we get licensed, we are one of only two or three public companies in the cultivation and dispensing of marijuana. The growth potential of an expanding medical brick and mortar business combined with WeedTV as a marketing engine makes for a nice combination. Marijuana stocks are going through a boom like the dot-coms did back in the late 90’s where there was a sorting out process of good companies from fake companies. We also have an interest in the digital networks that we are rolling out. There are quite a few hidden assets that I believe are going to start coming to fruition and bringing value for us over the next six months. We will know whether our licenses are in place before December. We have worked long and hard and everything is positioned to where I believe this is the calm before the storm. We have the biggest potential upside ever in the history of this company, and the ability to be part of something unique in the growing medical marijuana market. People are predicting this will be the biggest industry for the next seven to 10 years—maybe the biggest ever in this generation’s lifetime. I believe it will be similar to the end of Prohibition in the 1930s. It’s a multibillion dollar industry in its infancy.
Leslie Stone is an award-winning writer/editor with more than two decades of experience covering business, finance, real estate and lifestyle issues for newspapers, magazines and online publications. Originally from Virginia, she currently resides in Florida. Follow Leslie on Twitter: @lescstone.
[Editor’s note: The views expressed in this interview are those of the interview subject and do not necessarily represent those of Opportunist magazine.]
Players Network - www.playersnetwork.com
WeedTV - www.weedtv.com
For investment information call Parker Mitchell at 702-575-9157