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The future of media is ... Ashton Kutcher?

December 2, 2009 |  3:57 pm
Ashton Kutcher
Ashton Kutcher, new media mogul. Credit: Hermann J. Knippertz / Associated Press.

A panel of thought leaders trying to figure out the future of the media business -- how to pay for the journalism, music and entertainment that are now so thoroughly disrupted by technology -- was asked this morning if anyone out there was getting it right. The answer, at least from one panelist: Ashton Kutcher.

"He has an amazing number of Twitter followers -- the greatest number," said Catherine Hays, director of the Future of Advertising project at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School of Business. And, she said, the actor-turned-Tweeter has parlayed his newfound popularity into a social media consultancy, Katalyst Films. Hays said it's a "mashup of entertainment, of him understanding a social media marketplace, of him creating mini-episodes, and providing different narratives for different media. It’s taking off. It’s very viral."

Hays, speaking at the Supernova conference in San Francisco, cited Kutcher's use of his race to 1 million Twitter followers to help a malaria nonprofit amass thousands of mosquito nets for people in Africa. "It was engaging, it was people-oriented, people cared, and they shared with others, and he created a media company," Hays said. He is now up to more than 4 million followers on Twitter.

He is now using that company to consult with Pepsi and others, and his expertise this month landed him on the cover of Fast Company magazine.

The audience was not entirely convinced that Kutcher is the man to follow. "He was talented before he was on Twitter," one man said. Another woman added, "It's still the old model, he was just there first," meaning that Kutcher still provides content for others to consume. The future, all seemed to agree, gives the consumers more control over the content and the advertising.

"We’re transitioning from old to new," Hays said, "and he is kicking everyone’s ass, and look at him go."

-- Dan Fost