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Battle of the A-listers: Ashton and Arrington, let the games begin

August 29, 2008 |  3:18 pm

TechCrunch's Mike ArringtonHollywood A-lister Ashton Kutcher is going to be hanging with Silicon Valley A-lister Mike Arrington, just one of the highlights of the upcoming TechCrunch50 conference in San Francisco.

The name refers to the number of companies presenting products at the conference. (It's actually 52, but who's counting? Dude, Arrington is an Internet kingpin, not a bean counter.)

Arrington, who founded TechCrunch, and his conference cohort Jason Calacanis, usually keep confidential the list of presenting companies until the event ("to ensure maximum audience attention"). But they made an exception for Kutcher and Jason Goldberg's Katalyst Media, which will launch an interactive online video product called Blah Girls at TechCrunch50.

The conference runs Sept. 8-10. To generate buzz, Arrington asked the box-office star, who is also an Internet entrepreneur and a Hollywood producer, to promo TechCrunch50 in a video.

In a blog post introducing the video, Arrington writes: "You have to read between the lines, but I think he’s pretty jazzed about all of the strict confidentiality requirements and the need to meet with us twice before the event to rehearse his presentation."

Not.

"I understand your blog is really important for the interweb," Kutcher says in the video. "But this is really ridiculous."

"Movie studios don't even have this many requirements."

That's about all we can share in a family publication (Warning: The video contains some salty language, and it was even saltier before Arrington toned it down.)

Yes, Arrington toned it down. Is it possible that Kutcher can out-Arrington Arrington? Now that's a show we'd pay to see. Anyway, TechCrunch50, at the San Francisco Design Center Concourse, promises to be quite a show. The 52 start-ups were culled from a pool of ...

... 1,038 wannabes. The show offers young start-ups a chance to launch in front of industry influencers, venture capitalists, corporate executives, entrepreneurs and the media and compete for the $50,000 cash prize.

They will be judged by an all-star cast: Netscape and Ning founder Marc Andreessen, Salesforce.com founder Marc Benioff, Google executive Marissa Mayer, venture capitalist and entrepreneur Sean Parker, Facebook executive Sheryl Sandberg and more. The conference will also feature panels and a DemoPit (kind of a mosh pit for start-ups). And, of course, there will be parties every night: the hosts are MySpace, Symantec and Seesmic.

TechCrunch50 is attracting big names from Silicon Valley and Hollywood this year. One panel, "Hollywood Goes Silicon Valley" features Chris Henchy, writer, producer and co-founder of Funny or Die and co-executive producer of "Entourage"; Joss Whedon, creator of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer"; and Michael Yanover, head of business development at Creative Artists Agency, among others.

In its second year, TechCrunch50 is a start-up itself on the conference scene. (The first TechCrunch event at the Palace Hotel in San Francisco was called TechCrunch40). It's taking on Demo, the venerable 17-year-old conference run by technology publisher IDG, which also takes place the second week of September in San Diego. Demo has helped launch major products such as the PalmPilot and the TiVo digital video recorder.

Arrington, with his in-your-face style, is trying to pump up the rivalry with Demo, which charges start-ups $18,500 apiece to make a six-minute presentation.

TechCrunch does not charge start-ups. Instead it makes money from sponsorships and tickets and by selling companies space to demonstrate their wares outside the main conference hall. This year Yahoo, Google, Microsoft and top-tier venture capital firm Sequoia Capital are each paying $35,000 to sponsor the event.

With that kind of money and those kinds of connections continuing to pour in, the most prominent thing on display at TechCrunch50 will be Arrington's rising profile.

-- Jessica Guynn

Photo: TechCrunch founder Mike Arrington. Credit: Randi Lynn Beach / For The Times

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