Just Married: Ashton Kutcher Invests in Airbnb

Airbnb has added Ashton Kutcher — comedic heartthrob, coveted angel investor and Twitter-master extraordinaire — to its team of investors, the San Francisco based startup announced in its blog this evening.

Today in Social

There are some new schemes for social media monetization in the news today. Groupon is talking to Foursquare, after already signing up Loopt. UberMedia is hitching up with actor Ashton Kutcher on a branded Twitter client and, to tie the celebrity and social commerce themes together, Glen Beck will offer discount deals on a new site he’ll promote through his other media channels. Some see Groupon as a potentially powerful mobile ad network. Check-in apps are a good place to promote offers, but Groupon should buy space on mapping apps if it really aims to be an ad network. These just feel like distribution deals. Similarly, Kutcher and Beck are both big brands with lots of fans, but neither seems to have huge potential for scale, let alone network effects. At least Kutcher or his management seems to be curating content with some contextual relevance for his audience.

Ashton Kutcher to Pirate Killers Premiere

Ashton Kutcher has announced via Twitter that he is going to pirate part of the premiere of his upcoming movie Killers. Kutcher is known as an avid live streamer and social media user — but could this latest promotional stunt also turn him into a criminal?

Ashton Kutcher’s KatalystHQ: From Its Humble Beginnings to Its Much Less Funny Success

[show=katalysthq size=large]Oh boy, a web series that’s set behind the scenes at a production company! And it’s documentary-style, like The Office! And it features a celebrity! And it’s branded entertainment! Seriously, is there any box on the “web series cliches” form that KatalystHQ doesn’t check off?

OK, to be fair, it seems like the concept for KatalystHQ didn’t start off as a “hey, guys, let’s try to rip off College Humor and Black20!” effort. Instead, the show, featuring the employees of the Ashton Kutcher-founded social media company, seems to have evolved fairly organically out of real, unscripted behind-the-scenes videos that were posted to Facebook, starting in 2008.

And there’s some fairly charming content to be found in those early installments (provided you can find them — there’s currently no official site for KatalystHQ beyond its Facebook presence, so you either have to install a Facebook application or dig into the company’s account). Read More about Ashton Kutcher’s KatalystHQ: From Its Humble Beginnings to Its Much Less Funny Success

The Beautiful Life Resurrected Online

The Beautiful Life

The Beautiful Life on YouTube

The Beautiful Life — that short-lived TV show about models cohabitating in New York — may have gotten short shrift on the CW, but it’s getting a second chance online. Ashton Kutcher’s Katalyst films, which produced the show, has announced a partnership with HP (s hpq) that will bring the show back for a limited run on YouTube (s GOOG).

Beginning today, YouTube will host the first two episodes of the show along with a third, until-now unseen, one. The final two episodes will be posted to YouTube on Dec. 21, and all five will remain on the site for six months. The episodes will also be available on the CW web site.

The Beautiful Life, which featured Sara Paxton, Mischa Barton, Corbin Bleu and Elle Macpherson in its cast, began on the CW but only lasted two episodes on the network before being canceled. But Katalyst, in conjunction with CBS (s cbs) Television Studios and Warner Bros. (s twx), had already finished filming three more episodes before the show was called off.

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KatalystHQ Tries Subtler Branding and Wider Distribution for Season 2

Ashton Kutcher’s behind-the-scenes reality show KatalystHQ returned to the web for a second season this week. Season two will still have that Flipcam aesthetic, star employees of Kutcher’s production company Katalyst Media, feature celebrity cameos from his buddies like Gary Busey, and be primarily distributed through Slide‘s Facebook application FunSpace.

However, Slide and Katalyst have replaced sponsor Cheetos with Nestle Hot Pockets, and are making two significant changes. One, the show will try to make sponsor integration more natural this time around. “It had possibly become too commercial,” Slide director of business development Jared Fliesler told us this week. “Sometimes entire storylines were constructed around Cheetos as a product.” He mentioned one particular premise of stopping an annoying DJ from playing by foisting a bag of Cheetos on him.
Audiences showed their lack of enthusiasm for overly branded content by sharing it much less often than other story-driven episodes, such as a particularly viral bit about an over-the-top office romance, Fliesler said. “Pre-rolls and post-rolls could communicate a brand message in more comfortable way.” So that’s what Katalyst is doing this season, with Nestle this time around (Cheetos was happy with the campaign but shifted its budget elsewhere, according to Fliesler). The Hot Pockets campaign is worth between $500,000 and $1,000,000, and more than the Cheetos campaign, according to Slide. Given KatalystHQ’s low production values and the fact that its actors all, by definition, have day jobs, that’s a pretty fantastic financial situation for a web series.
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Will Celebs Ruin Web Video for the Rest of Us?

If this was a US Weekly article, the headline would read “Stars! They’re just like us! They make web shows!” Speaking at a conference yesterday, Greg Johnson, SVP, ECD and head of digital at William Morris Endeavor, told the crowd to expect more celeb-studded content coming down the digital pike. paidContent reports Johnson as saying:

“Historically, there were huge barriers to actors or artists that wanted to form companies and actually create their own content. But with digital distribution and platforms like Facebook for games, video networks for original series—there’s less of a need for huge investments of capital—so these artists can get into production and be profitable very quickly.”

Hollywood poking its head into the world of web video is nothing new. Will Ferrell’s Funny or Die is basically a repository for celebrity viral videos. Ashton Kutcher is behind Blah Girls. And just this week, Heroes star Milo Ventimiglia’s DiVide Pictures partnered with Generate to create branded entertainment targeting young males.
Why does this matter? Well, if you’re an independent creator, it’s going to become even harder to get sponsorship money to finance your projects. As we wrote last month, advertisers want to put money where they know (or hope, at least) audiences will be. Having a celeb associated with your production is one way to do that.
The influx of Hollywood could mean that homegrown “web stars” truly will be like us. No one will know who they are because viewers are too busy watching Ashton Kutcher’s latest series.

On Twitter, Does Reciprocity Matter? It Depends.

Twitter is a kind of Rorschach test. Why you find (or don’t find) it valuable depends on your motivations. Want to be center of attention? Try to gain followers no matter how similar your interests are. Own a business? Twitter is your online marketing channel for shoe-shoppers. You’re an analyst? Twitter may be your new Google Reader.

Vid-Biz: Kutcher, Streaming Costs, Limelight

Kutcher Bringing Punk’d-esque Show to Ustream; star’s Katalyst Media will live-stream people getting tricked and embarrassed. (TechCrunch)
What Does it Cost to Stream Video? In light of metered broadband discussions, Saul Hansell at the NYT breaks down the local network and bandwidth costs associated with delivering video. (Bits Blog) Elsewhere, Dan Rayburn has tracked down some of Level 3’s customers, including Netflix, FOX, Yahoo and others. (The Business of Online Video)
Limelight Expands into Mobile; beta of the CDN’s mobile video service was used for March Madness iPhone app and reportedly being used for Major League Baseball’s iPhone app. (Contentinople)
Qik Integrates Facebook Connect; new features include the ability to instantly upload live-streamed videos to the social network. (Qik Blog)
ZillionTV Chooses Verimatrix for Content Security; VOD startup deploys Verimatrix’s encryption and authentication platform. (Multichannel News) Zillion also chose Inlet for encoding. (release)
A Digital TV Feature You Can’t Get; under ATSC guidelines, digital TV sets have the ability to offer dual streams of audio for broadcasts, but no manufacturer has included the decoding equipment to enable it. (Gadgetwise)
BBC iPlayer to Turn on HD; streams and downloads of some programs like Doctor Who and Dragon’s Den to stream in high-definition. (BBC)

How to Launch Your Web Show on Facebook

funspace_katalysthq_mockIntegrating a show with a social network, like Prom Queen on MySpace or KateModern on Bebo, is a great way to attract and interact with an audience. But the world’s biggest social network, Facebook, has no such original content initiatives. Its one content project, Facebook Diaries, a collaboration with Comcast’s Ziddio, was hardly launched before it was forgotten. I recently spoke at length with a Facebook spokesperson about all things video, and she made it clear that such ventures — especially anything including fictional characters — are way far off the company’s radar.

So I was surprised to get an email saying that Katalyst Media, Ashton Kutcher’s production company, is launching its next show on Facebook. How is that going to work? I spoke with Katalyst’s head of digital, Sarah Ross, to find out.

Ross said the series is launching exclusively with Slide’s FunSpace application, which is kind of like a fancy version of Facebook’s Wall. That means that in order to even watch the show, you’ll have to both be a member of Facebook and install the FunSpace app. Why Katalyst would want this limited form of distribution to be exclusive is unclear to me, especially since Ross said Slide isn’t paying Katalyst, but rather both will be splitting revenue from integrated sponsor Cheetos. FunSpace is the third-most popular application on Facebook with 12.5 million active users — way more than most web series.

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