Ashton Kutcher at TechCrunch50: Blah, Blah, Blah
TechCrunch50, the San Francisco conference showcasing Silicon Valley talent, kicked off with celebrity wattage Monday morning when Hollywood actor and digital media entrepreneur Ashton Kutcher took the stage. He was here to launch his latest project, Blah, Blah, Blah, a website and an animated video series featuring a teen trio: Tiffany, Brittney and Krystle, who have serious attitude as they poke fun at pop culture (and at "Silicone Valley"), sometimes in crass ways a la "South Park."
Kutcher, who is married to actress Demi Moore and is stepfather to her three daughters, says he loved the concept from Todd Goldman for the animated video series because it was so much like the lively backseat conversations he overheard driving the girls to school. (Hence, "blah, blah, blah.") There are animated shorts, a blog and personal responses (well, automated personal responses) to reader comments.The Blah Girls site is aimed at women as young as 13 and as old as 35, the Us Weekly demographic, Kutcher says. He plans to support the venture with product placement (VitaminWater is on board) and online ads. It is part of Katalyst Media, the Hollywood production company he co-founded with Jason Goldberg.
Kutcher, himself a frequent target of gawkers and paparazzi (and starstruck techies who trailed him around TechCrunch50 with the tenacity of TechCrunch founder Mike Arrington's dog, Laguna, who attended the conference along with Mahalo.com's Jason Calacanis' dogs, who sported their own specially issued conference name tags), is looking to create an interactive experience for teenagers who like to gossip about celebrities. We sat down with Kutcher to get the lowdown on his latest project and on the future of collaboration between Hollywood and Silicon Valley.
Here is a condensed version of that interview.
Question: Tell me about Blah Girls.
Answer: It's an interactive, animated Web series focused on all things celebrity. It's the convergence of ...
... celebrity news and interactive entertainment. The main function, the video, is updated two to three times a week and is focused on the latest and greatest news.
Q: Some of the content struck some people as inappropriate for teenagers. Do you have thoughts on that?
A: I don't think content should parent children. I think parents should parent children. This doesn't go too far. I have shown this to my teenage girls and they felt comfortable about it. I see worse, more aggressive things on prime-time TV, let alone cable TV, let alone other places that get stuff off the Web.
Q: How did you get involved with Blah Girls?
A: Todd Goldman, the creator of the characters, came to us. I could relate to the voices from driving the girls to school in the morning. Listening to them in the back seat, all I heard was "Blah, blah, blah."
Q: Are the girls fans of Blah Girls?
A: Good reviews all around.
Q: What is the demographic?
A: I think the demographic for this is 13 or 14 years old to 35 years old. Basically the Us Weekly audience. We are really providing the same news that Us Weekly provides with a comedic slant.
Q: If you are producing just two to three times a week, is that enough to engage an audience?
A: It takes us two days to script an episode, to voice it, to animate it, to pass it through our integrated branding partners and get it on the site. Any slower and the topic or subject matter will no longer be relevant. It's very quick, it's very dirty. It's meant to be that. Two to three times a week with the video will keep people engaged. Also the Blah, Blah, Blah blog will be updated several times a day. I think that will keep people satiated.
Q: What will the blog cover?
A: Celebrity news, fashion and trends, hot and homeless, what the girls think is hot and what they think is homeless, like hot or not. There will be trend spotting on what are the great restaurants and bars where celebrities are hanging out. There will be their own ride-along blog as they watch their favorite TV shows, as they watch "Gossip Girl," the new "90210," "Project Runway," "Top Model." They will be talking about what other teenage girls are talking about.
Q: Will you be developing other community or social networking aspects to Blah Girls?
A: We are here to find more interactive function. These girls will definitely have their own Facebook and MySpace pages. They are going to live as characters in the universe. That would be ground level of social networking capacity. We want to find new technologies and implement them.
Q: Do you see Blah Girls having crossover potential?
A: We want it to live on the Internet, on mobile, on games, on television.
Q: What other projects are you working on?
A: We have about five projects in development. We will roll out two more in the next six months. One is a "Punk'd" your friends portal, a cross blend of media and messing with people, something we are really good at. Another is based in the Fantasy Football world. We want to take a new slant on that and engage the players of Fantasy Football with a Web series blog information site. We don't want to compete with function sites. We want to complement them.
Q: Do you spend much time in Silicon Valley?
A We have offices in L.A. and New York. We come here to cherry-pick talent. We started out of my house in 2000, out of the spare bedroom.
Q: So a true start-up.
A: Now with Blah Girls, I feel like we are doing it again. It takes that up-all-night nurturing like a baby. It makes me feel a lot older than 30. At 30, I have had three [product] launches. By the time I am 40, I want to have had a lot more launches. Someday I would like to sit on the left side of the panel [with the judges].
Q: What does the future hold for online video?
A: Obviously Will Ferrell launched FunnyOrDie.com and it has proved to be pretty successful as a video aggregation portal. I think people in Hollywood are hungry to figure out how to make viable content for the Web. Right now it's an artist's medium because it can be done cheap and fast. It forces people to be creative. But there is not a lot of money to be made there just yet. In some ways, I think it's being viewed as the Wild West a little bit. If you can get there first, you can be Charlie Chaplin. We will see who does it right first. To some extent, we are all trying to work together to figure it out. People are trying a bunch of different things. I don't know what's going to work.
Q: Does Silicon Valley hold the key?
A: If we as a company can successfully bridge the divide, if you will, and create partnerships with technology and marry our content to that technology, that's where we are going to find success. That's my humble opinion, my very humble opinion. It's nerve-wracking doing this thing here today. Usually I am ... talking about something I know a lot about. Here I am learning. And it's a hard, fast learning curve. Making a video and posting it is not a business. People have to stop programming the Web like it's television, because it's not.
Q: Who in Silicon Valley do you draw inspiration from?
A: From Dan Rosensweig, who is on our board. I have talked to Chad Hurley about the landscape. I have talked to Sean Parker about the landscape. Jason Calacanis and Mike Arrington have been very helpful. I say: "I'm the student. Teach me." A lot of people have tried to attend that wedding between Silicon Valley and Hollywood. I feel like I am walking down the aisle and I'm not 100% sure if she is going to say yes, or if he is going to say yes, but I sure hope they will. We are ready to embrace technology.
Q: Do you think there are still tensions there?
A: I think there's a little bit of arrogance in both. We are experts in content creation. We are experts in technology. Which one is better? I don't care. We need each other in order to be successful. You can make the case that we don't need them, or they don't need us, but to exploit the value of this distribution device, we need to work together.
— Jessica Guynn
Photo: Actor and digital media entrepreneur Ashton Kutcher is excited about his latest project — Blah, Blah, Blah — a website and an animated video series. Credit: Steve Maller