Public Opinion Creates Content and Community
Three NoHo-based creatives are using TikTok trivia to connect New Yorkers.
Three NoHo-based creatives are using TikTok trivia to connect New Yorkers.
Photography: Garrison Block
Text: Erica Marrison
The first game show in America, Information Please, aired on NBC Radio in 1938, live from New York City. Part quiz, part comedy, it was the first of its kind to land on a mainstream network, igniting a genre that would become a fixture of New York entertainment.
Having launched just months ago, Public Opinion—part studio space, part content incubator that hosts, films, and produces video series across TikTok, Instagram, and YouTube—has found a way to harness the timeless trivia show format for a contemporary attention span.
Co-founded by brothers Jack and Kieran Coyne, along with their friend Henry Kornaros, the NoHo-based creative house rose to prominence through their short-form trivia series, which features the young team quizzing passersby on the streets of New York. Since launching the streetside game show, Public Opinion has amassed over 120K followers and 7.5M likes on TikTok.
But the founders' ambitions extend beyond the screen. Jack, the elder Coyne, explained: "Ideally, in five years there will be people who are meeting, engaging with each other, and learning about ways they can positively impact the city, all inspired by being a part of the Public Opinion community." Not unlike other start-ups in NYC, the founders hope that their brand will serve as a conduit for connection among those who are fans of their work, and that it will bring people together on the basis of their shared curiosity about the city they call home.
V sat down with the trio to ask about their creative histories, what it's like collaborating with friends, and their mutual desire to build community beyond commercial content.
V: How did the three of you meet?
JACK COYNE: Kieran and I met when he was born, we're brothers [laughs]. But we started working together three or four years ago. Henry and I met on the street in 2018. He was like, "Oh, I know your work," so we followed each other on Instagram and talked there for a while. A couple of years ago I was working on a project and needed help, so I asked Henry to help us shoot. That was the first time we collaborated, but we liked working together. Eventually, we had this idea to start something new.
V: A lot of young V readers are interested in pursuing creative careers, so I want to ask about your backgrounds. Did you go to college? And if so, what did you study? What fields of work were each of you in before launching Public Opinion?
JC: I went to Wesleyan to study Film and Economics. The summer after my freshman year I got an internship working for a really popular YouTuber named Casey Niestat. I worked for him throughout college and after school for about 10 years—that's how I got my education. I was studying film, but I recognized that internet video content was growing and that there was going to be more of it. It seemed like a good space to get into.
KIERAN COYNE: I followed Jack to Wesleyan and also studied film. When I graduated, I started working for a couple of digital media publishers, mostly editing video, shooting, and producing. I was only two or three years into working when Jack and I started to work together. I also have a music background and make music for our YouTube videos now. At some level, I've been involved in making music for most of my life.
HENRY KORANOS: I'm the youngest and I didn't go to school. Well, I moved to New York and dropped out six months in. There was a lot of work and not enough time to do both. My school was not very supportive of the balancing act, me missing classes here and there, so it didn't make sense to spend $70 000 to be there. I was freelance until we started doing this.
JC: Did you learn anything in college?
HK: The thing I learned, which to this day I use very often, was from one teacher who's an incredible director named Ryan Stake. I just luckily got into a senior elective class with him during freshman year.
V: At what school?
HK: The School of Visual Arts on 23rd Street. He taught us how important the pitch deck is. How a deck, a really good deck, is the only way to win work. That to be able to tell people what your ideas are is way more important than the actual idea. The entire time he was teaching, he was pitching music videos for the biggest artists in the world, whether that was Ed Sheeran or Chance the Rapper.
V: What was the impetus behind starting Public Opinion?
JC: The goal was to be able to build something bigger than the sum of our parts. We knew that if we pooled all of our resources and abilities together, we could get a studio space that allowed us to collaborate on commercial projects that pay the bills, which would open up more time for us to work on other things.
HK: What we all have in common is that we figure things out as we go. There's not always a perfect plan, but there's very much a direction that we're trying to head in. We don't know the exact door, but we know the hallway. That's what we share.
V: How did you know it was the right time to launch your own company?
KC: The three of us worked together on a project and realized that the balance of our skillsets allowed us to work really efficiently. We knew that if we could do that on a bigger scale with more projects, we could accomplish so much more than we could as individuals. The leap to launching PO felt like an obvious next step.
V: From the outside looking in, it seems like there are two verticals at Public Opinion. There's the studio space where you shoot content for brands, but there's also your own social media and content creation stream. What is the relationship between the two?
JC: You don't make money from making social media shows right away. Eventually you can get there, but you have to build an audience first. Right now, most of our income comes from commercial projects, while our social media shows are a way to brand and market ourselves as an agency. If we can come up with interesting, cool ideas, even if they don't reach a huge audience, they're always reference points for brands that we might want to work with.
V: For creators who might not have a studio space, or even for you three before you had Public Opinion, where can people shoot indoor content?
JC: Space is a good thing to invest in and it doesn't have to be a long-term investment. You don't have to rent a studio for a year. You can go on Peerspace and find a spot that makes sense for your project. Those spaces can cost a couple hundred dollars and sometimes it's really worth spending that money because it has a huge impact on the final product. People think they should spend all of their money on a camera or on some kind of software, but sometimes renting a space or a certain prop, those kind of things can add a lot of value to the final product.
HK: But also, use wherever you can find indoor space that works for what you're making. I was just using whatever was most convenient and at an arm's length.
V: Do you welcome other people and brands to use Public Opinion's studio space to shoot their own projects?
JC: Yeah, the space is available on Peerspace, so anyone can rent it now. It doesn't happen very often, probably two or three times a month. More consistently, there's two brands—New York or Nowhere and Wolaco—whose founders we're friends with, so they've shot a bunch of campaigns here. If you're a brand in NYC that needs a space to shoot, hit us up!
V: Culturally, we continue to hear debate about the pros and cons of working with friends. How has it been collaborating as friends and business partners?
KC: Having three partners is a nice balance. With two, you can disagree and never really find common ground. There's no one who's going to stop and say, "You're right." But if two of us can't agree, then you have a third to say, "No, you're the one who's right here. And you're the one who's being a bit unreasonable," or whatever it is. And it's being humble, we never stay too stubborn about our perspectives.
V: Public Opinion's social channels have grown very quickly. When you started the company, did you have a clear social strategy across Instagram, TikTok, and YouTube?
HK: The main thing was just consistently putting stuff out there. We know that if there's five people who find what we're doing interesting, there's a hundred people who just haven't found it yet.
JC: I think the long-form YouTube videos are a really good example of us not knowing exactly what we're doing and not having a completely clear strategy, but committing to posting a video every single week. We're forcing ourselves to grapple with that question every day and really think about what we are making: Why are we making this? Who are we talking to? These are questions we need to ask ourselves and each other, but we also just have to put something out each week.
The trivia show on Instagram and TikTok, which we launched at the same time, we had a much clearer sense of. I think it's important with short-form video series that the audience be able to understand what it is and be able to tell their friend what it is, so that the content can be shared easily. The first second someone opens a short-form video, they need to be able to understand what they're watching.
When we launched the trivia show, it was successful right away. After a couple of days, we knew there were a lot of people watching it, that they understood it, and that they wanted more. With YouTube, we're still trying to figure it out, but we've recently started to realize how we will define it in one sentence.
V: What is that sentence?
JC: We want Public Opinion to be the voice of New York City.
V: When thinking about Public Opinion's evolution, what do you hope it becomes? What kind of cultural space do you see yourselves occupying?
JC: We're trying to bring New Yorkers closer together, to make New York feel a bit more like a small town. We go up to people in the street and we ask them questions, we play our little game shows, and it's an opportunity for us to meet someone that we might not have otherwise encountered. It's an opportunity for us to talk to a stranger and understand what their perspective is on life in New York City. And we've become actual friends with people that we've met on the street. We have regular communication with many of the people who at first appeared to be one-off contestants on our game show.
With our longer videos, it's understanding some of the systems that make the city work. Like, how does the sewage system work? How do we get clean water? We're trying to answer those questions with other New Yorkers.
My feeling is that in five years, we're going to be connected with the mayor's office and have opportunities to talk about new programs that the city's running, but at the same time be able to talk to regular New Yorkers and understand how those programs are affecting people. All the while, we'll continue to make fun game shows that keep people entertained. We want to be entertaining, informative, and to host a dialogue between the city and the people who live here.
To connect with Henry, Jack, and Kieran of Public Opinion, visit www.publicopinion.nyc.