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The Pot Baron of Reality Television

The newest in the crop of marijuana shows launches on Sunday, April 19 when CNN introduces “High Profits” just in time for 4/20. The eight episode series features Brian Rogers and Caitlin McGuire, owners of the Breckenridge Cannabis Club, as they work to become marijuana moguls and eventually franchise their stores. It follows on the heels of MSNBC’s well received docu-reality series “Pot Barons of Colorado.” After wrapping up that marijuana infused marathon, executive producer Gary Cohen says he’s hooked.

“Pot Barons was a crazy sprint” says Cohen, who is the Emmy award winning founder of Triple Threat Television based in Stamford, Connecticut. “Those six months were as demanding as any I could remember.” Cohen deployed an eight-person team who worked around the clock out of a house in Denver. The program focused on the most successful ganjapreneurs in Colorado including the founders of Medicine Man, Euflora and Dixie Elixirs. Now he is developing and pitching new programs. “I expect to do lots of pot shows,” says Cohen.

Cohen got his start in television producing sports and documentaries. Triple Threat TV produced nine films for ESPN’s highly acclaimed 30 For 30 series. His team also produced ten episodes of MTV’s True Life and eight episodes for Biography. His foray into marijuana shows is a natural evolution for the producer of non-fiction programming who is a self-described marijuana lover and advocate. “I’m comfortable saying I am a marijuana person. Thanks to efforts of a lot of people who have been working at it for a long time I lived to see a day I never thought I would live to see. Prohibition is over.”

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Cohen is exploring how to do the marijuana version of various television genres such as talk shows, documentaries, cooking shows and music shows. One of those is a talk show with the Denver Post’s Cannabist pot critic Jake Browne who gets high and hangs out with celebrity guests. Cohen is shopping a pilot where Jake parties with former Denver Bronco Nate Jackson who wrote a book about getting high in the NFL. Cohen thinks a program like this will attract celebrities. “Marijuana is part of a brand. They’re eager to be identified with it in the right way.”

Cohen admits not every network is open to the idea of pot shows because there could be ad sales issues.   Even so, there are more channels willing to listen to a marijuana pitch now than there were a year ago and the reaction is “oooh that’s sexy, maybe we’ll get some viewers we don’t normally get.” While he was in Washington D.C. at the non-fiction television summit, Realscreen, he went up to a women’s network and asked if they were interested in talking and they said “yes, definitely. Let’s set up a call for next week.”

“There are an awful lot of people who get high. My interest is in leading the charge. I don’t want to follow the crowd. I want to do more. I feel like there are huge opportunities and we are getting out in front of some of them.” Cohen is looking at cable television and over the top networks and channels that are delivering programs through phone apps and streaming video on demand. “At the same time there is a marijuana revolution there is a television implosion,” he says. “There are more and more media outlets and millennials are not paying for cable.   You and I grew up in a world of half hour and hour television slots. Uh uh. Game over. Four minutes or eleven minutes or 71 minutes, it’s whatever it is. People will find it if they want it and it speaks to them. The doors have blown off old media and everything is different going forward.”

Cohen looks forward to returning to Colorado and cultivating his relationships with the Pot Barons. He describes his time in Denver as a “dreamy busman’s holiday.” In the meantime, he is casting for talent for new shows and producing a public service announcement for medical marijuana with a cast of 25 people with different conditions. He is also considering doing a documentary following the upcoming vote to legalize marijuana in California. “This is exciting work for me. The kind of people who are drawn to the industry are positive, energetic, they’re hard working like nobody’s business, they’re free thinking, they’re open minded, they’re creative. Six months ago I couldn’t have done it and now I can and now I really want to.”

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The Other Marijuana Boom

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When recreational marijuana was legalized in Colorado in January of 2014 it promised to be a boom for those who were ready with their brick and mortar stores and new licenses. Growing as rapidly as weed are ancillary businesses that cater to these new marijuana pioneers. You only need to walk inside the massive grow operation at establishments like Medicine Man to realize that marijuana demands sophisticated lighting and cooling systems as well as excellent soil and fertilizers to keep the plants happily budding. To protect the plants, growers and retailers need elaborate security systems. Once harvested, marijuana needs to be sold in specialized packaging. Ancillary products are flourishing as the marijuana economy takes off.

It was only a matter of time then before ancillary services like law firms and advertising agencies started popping up to meet the needs of ganjapreneurs. Vicente Sederberg bills itself as The Marijuana Law Firm. On its homepage it describes its role in this brave new world:

Our clients are trailblazers, building a new and vibrant industry from scratch. Each and every one of them has made a conscious decision to assume a certain level of risk in order to change the course of history. As trailblazers ourselves, we take pride in being with them every step along the way, helping them navigate and overcome unique legal and regulatory challenges.

Brian Vicente was the co-director of the Amendment 64 ballot measure that led to the legalization of recreational marijuana in Colorado. He is considered a leader in marijuana policy reform and even assisted Uruguay when it became the first country in the world to fully regulate its adult marijuana market. Another attorney is Sean McCallister with McCallister Law Office.  He also helped draft Amendment 64 and works with dispensaries and marijuana companies to stay on top of laws in the highly regulated industry. He is also developing strategies to take his clients national as marijuana becomes legal across the country.

To help marijuana businesses with the complexity of marketing and advertising Cannabrand has stepped up. Olivia Mannix and Jennifer DeFalco both brought ad agency pedigrees to their full service marketing company. They launched their business at the same time recreational marijuana was legalized in January of 2014, and specialize in knowing all the facts, laws and regulations associated with the marketing of cannabis. Olivia, who had a red card for medical marijuana following a ski injury, and Jennifer decided to dive in and start a cannabis specific agency to help give marijuana a better reputation. They hit the ground running, work 80 hours a week and now serve 15 plus clients. They are adding a senior account manager and a third partner who will be their director of analytics.

“Our mission is to educate the public and have positive connotations of cannabis for the consumer and really take away labels,” says Olivia. “If you like to consume cannabis you shouldn’t have to feel pigeonholed or stigmatized for that.” To do this, Cannabrand helps clients with their websites, image, storefronts, packaging and designs. The company has clients in Florida, Washington, D.C., Oregon, California and Montana but mostly in Colorado. “It’s very exciting bringing marijuana to the public on a national scale,” says Olivia.

Another ancillary service is a startup website, Denverweed.com which aggregates all the marijuana companies in Denver into one complete online directory. “We wanted to create a one stop shop for people seeking out marijuana businesses in the Denver area,” says DenverWeed.com founder Jason Keeley. “We post descriptions and reviews of dispensaries, weed friendly lodging, grow stores, tour companies, lawyers, spas, classes and real estate. The marijuana industry is growing so rapidly that we saw a need for updated information to be handy and under one roof.”

According to the Marijuana Business Factbook, 90% of cannabis companies are expecting to grow this year. Experts say branding will be key for a competitive edge as companies expand nationally and even internationally. With people comparing the marijuana economy to a new Gold Rush or the Internet boom, being recognized first as experts with ancillary products and services is a key to success. Law firms, ad agencies and business websites are realizing the value in riding the coattails of the marijuana industry as it flourishes in Colorado and beyond.

For more information on Vicky Collins visit Teletrends Television Production and Journalism.