Got Two Hours and 18 Bucks? Why Not Make a Web Series?

Media Reviews for Media People: '24 Hours @ Sundance'

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The Sundance Film Festival ranks near the top of my list of "events I never want to attend, ever," right between the Winter X Games and "The View: Live at Budokan." The artistes and auteurs, the flogging of obsessively branded vodka and sunglasses, the look-everybody-I'm-in-Sundance-and-Bob-Redford-(that's-what-friends-call-him-you-know)-sez-hi! hangers-on. ... Seriously, just sign me up for 10 days in a cold-war gulag or the Fenway bleachers instead.

Digg dude Kevin Rose and Ashton Kutcher are the co-hosts of '24 Hours @ Sundance.'
Digg dude Kevin Rose and Ashton Kutcher are the co-hosts of '24 Hours @ Sundance.'
In the festival's wake, we're usually treated to reviews and recaps aplenty, not to mention an avalanche of uplifting films about sexual dysfunction. In recent years, cable's Sundance Channel has delivered semi-serious-minded video, while Entertainment Weekly and The Salt Lake Tribune, among others, have dutifully chronicled the collision of celebrity and commerce. That has always seemed more than enough, especially given how few of the festival's entries will actually be seen by the viewing public.

Web standout
Alas, where there are celebrities in stylish winterwear, there are bored cubicle colonists willing to track their every gurgle. And so a wealth of online content has sprung up around this year's Sundance fest, which concludes on Sunday. Most of it is easily enough ignored -- if a toothy attention whore armed with a digital-video camcorder gets buried in a snow drift, does anyone notice? -- but one program caught my attention, by virtue of both its parentage and peculiarity: "24 Hours @ Sundance," an around-the-clock scavenger hunt of sorts that streamed in real time last weekend.

The game charged five "social-media mavens" -- their description, not mine -- with a host of dopey tasks, ranging from collecting celebrity autographs to conducting faux red-carpet interviews. All of the adventures were documented and plopped onto the web; contestants earned points for each successful endeavor and the winner received a shiny virtual chalice, or something.

Producers included mobile-video thingie Qik and Ashton Kutcher's Katalyst Media, with Kutcher himself serving as co-host alongside Digg dude Kevin Rose.

Result: annoying
Predictably, the end result was a big ol' heap of annoying, with the contestants trying way too hard to live up to the quirk of the premise. This might've been where "24 Hours" went astray: the aforementioned mix of oversharers and underthinkers fromKonsole Kingz (hip-hop gaming), Geek Entertainment TV(twitchy technology bits) and Nonsociety (your guess is as good as mine) seemed less interested in entertaining viewers than they did in promoting themselves. "Surreal Life"-level celebrities would've been a better choice for the assignment. Heaven knows they would've pimped themselves out cheaply for a chance to bask in the Sundance spotlight.

The scheduling of "24 Hours" made no sense, either. My social life is only slightly less sedentary than that of a fire hydrant, and even I wouldn't devote an entire Saturday to sitting in front of my computer and watching this crew frolicking in the snow. For something like this to catch on, it has to be streamed live during the workweek, when viral-minded viewers might be more motivated to zip along a link to their equally under-stimulated pals. I'd be curious to get the page-view stats for "24 Hours" during its live run; I can't imagine that they surged too far into four-digit territory.

All these issues notwithstanding, I firmly believe that Kutcher and development best-bud Jason Goldberg ("Beauty and the Geek," "Punk'd") are on to something here. The informality of "24 Hours" -- it looks like it was thrown together in two hours and for about 18 bucks -- is a natural fit for the web, both tonally and commitment-wise. Web-video aficionados famously have the attention spans of sugared-up four-year-olds, which makes me think there's more potential in a gimmicky live offering like "24 Hours" than in 99% of the eight-part faux-documentary comedy series currently proliferating online. Those series have to capture viewers' attention within their first 90 seconds or they're dead meat. "24 Hours" and its ilk, on the other hand, can take advantage of viewers' collective thirst for immediacy.

Own best advocates
Also, even minimally adventurous marketers should want to ally themselves with content like "24 Hours." Not only will the placements come cheap, but they'll serve as their own best advocate: I don't think much of the "24 Hours" videos themselves, but I'm impressed by the audio and video quality of the handsets that were used to shoot them (Nokias? Er, this should probably have been made clearer). Several brands receive a nice rub from the project, including Nikon (the unfortunately named Coolpix cameras were used in several of the tasks) and Ray Ban (which hosted the festival's even more unfortunately named Ray Ban Rock Bar, featured in one of the activities).

Maybe I've whiffed in devoting 800-odd words to web piffle like "24 Hours @ Sundance," given both its limited reach and the minimal effort that went into its creation. But as silly and half-assed as the first iteration of "24 Hours" may have been, on-the-fly web programming boasts a ton of potential for online trawlers and marketers alike. You watch: Within six months, one such program/contest/broadcast/execution/whatever will catch on. And when it does, 72,000 others will follow in short order. Brace yourself for the inevitable.

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