Ashton Kutcher won the race to a million Twitter followers with CNN last week — but the postgame analysis reveals a few twists. Let’s look at how the various players fared:
Oprah: When Ashton Kutcher declared the race with CNN, the queen of daytime TV saw an opening to collect for herself some of the Twitter manna that’s been falling from publicity heaven these days. And boy, did she collect. She scored points not just for (finally) getting herself on Twitter — she would have had to do that eventually, anyway — but doing it in the most high-profile way possible, with both the "King of Twitter," Kutcher, and the founder of the company, Biz Stone, on the show, giving their blessings.
As for the show itself, well, it was hardly the compelling TV some expected — no one ding-dong-ditched Ted Turner’s house on camera, as Kutcher had promised he’d do if he won — but that hardly matters. Oprah played this one masterfully — she almost made it seem as if Twitter was joining Oprah, and not the other way around.
Larry King: King comes out a winner for seizing the opportunity to represent CNN in the challenge, and doing it playfully, with his mind genuinely open to the mysteries Twitter represents to someone of his vintage. He came across as relaxed, and even kind of funny in his video challenge to Kutcher about "this Twitter thing." Then he had Kutcher and Sean Combs on his show to explain, to anyone still in the dark, what Twitter is and why they do it.
Only negative: King didn’t even bring up Kutcher’s tweeted promise to donate 10,000 bed nets to Malaria No More if he won, missing an opportunity not just to help the cause, but to point out how technologies like Twitter don’t just enable self-promotion, they make it much easier to promote, join and help good causes.
CNN: Incredibly, the cable news network had not even owned or operated the Twitter account that Kutcher was racing against, it turned out. So the network did the smart thing and bought it from James Cox, the 25-year-old British web developer who started it and had been running it on a contract from CNN. The network comes out a winner, not just in all the publicity they got for the feed, but also in realizing that it’s time they took full charge of their new media identity.
Ashton Kutcher: The guy who started it all may be the biggest question mark, in the end. Yes, he ended up with over a million followers, expanding his public image exponentially. He also did a great thing by not just using the race to raise awareness of malaria for World Malaria Day on April 25, but also showing how new technological tools like Twitter can help increase involvement in good causes. But did the stunt start tilting the star into the dreaded land of overexposure? Are people getting sick of his multi-pronged public persona?
The naysayers are starting to weigh in. Some say he may be putting himself in our faces a little too strenuously, with the planned launch of a "Punk’d"-style web show to come on the heels of this Twitter contest (and he’s also shooting a movie at the moment). Others raise deeper questions about his continued assertion that now, one person is just as powerful — and just as reliable — as an entire professional news organization.
Malaria No More: The malaria charity that Kutcher and Co. donated thousands of bed nets to is the biggest winner of all. It now has 2,800 followers on its own Twitter feed, and momentum in its fight to end malaria deaths. And on Anderson Cooper’s AC360 blog, CEO Scott Case declared the charity’s own challenge — one that, no matter how silly you found the whole Ashton-CNN Twitter race, gives it a meaningful ending: "Help us get to one million mosquito nets in one week to celebrate World Malaria Day on April 25."