Ashton Kutcher is a mainstream tech media visionary (seriously)

Dylan Stableford

Ashton Kutcher, actor and Charlie Sheen's replacement on "Two and a Half Men," played his other, arguably more important role on Tuesday: tech media entrepreneur.

In a wide-ranging interview with Charlie Rose at the TechCrunch "Disrupt" Conference in New York, Kutcher recounted failures he encountered while launching his own start-up--Katalyst--and his outlook as an unlikely social media guru and new media investor.

Kutcher, whose race for Twitter followers against CNN helped accelerate the social messaging service's growth, acknowledged he's good at "mainstreaming things that are one point in time fringe."

"I have pretty expansive social media reach," Kutcher said, saying his 6 million Twitter followers and 9 million Facebook fans equal a "social reach" of 15 million.

With Twitter, "I saw a potential for mass syndication and a social behavior that is very addictive," he said. "There's a large level of satisfaction" in seeing instant responses on Twitter, Kutcher said, that has made Twitter "a mainstream consumer broadcasting device."

It also helps that it is consumer-driven, since "consumers are becoming your most valued asset because they are your brand advocate."

If it sounds like Kutcher was making a sales pitch, he sort of was. The actor-cum-angel investor was also at the conference to promote A.Plus, a desktop Twitter application ("a social media surfing device," Kutcher called it) he launched this week, part of a partnership with Uber Media, a Pasadena-based developer.

"I first started investing with my own money, then I realized I was going to run out very quickly because I had more ideas than money," Kutcher said. He recently partnered with Guy Oseary, Madonna's manager, and supermarket magnate Ron Burkle to form a tech investment company, A Grade Investments, pouring money into startups, like Milk, another app development firm.

So what is Kutcher looking for in a potential new media investment?

"Companies that are just trying to keep their servers up," Kutcher said. "I look for problem solvers. Are you solving a problem for a large subset of people? Are you solving a signal-to-noise issue? ... Beyond that, I look at the market need or want, and what the consumer will want."

Kutcher said his approach as an actor translates to the tech media space.

"As an actor, when we receive a script, we start breaking down every character by their want," he said. "Every character has an objective and a super objective. I look at technology the same way. I'll think, 'I'm a user of this platform. What do I want and how badly do I want it?  How much friction am I willing to put up with to get what I want, and where can you eliminate that friction to get me what I want faster?'"

Hollywood, he added, isn't terribly far removed from Silicon Valley, at least conceptually.

"It's not such a dissimilar business," Kutcher said. "When you make a film--especially independent film--you go out and raise some money. You have no idea what your profits are gonna be."

But where it does differ is on piracy. "I go around to all these studios, and very little being done collectively to address piracy," Kutcher said. "A week after ['No Strings Attached'] came out, I went online looking for it, and found 20 versions in about 5 minutes--and not like downloads from BitTorrent, these were right there. I emailed the studio and said, 'Are we giving the movie away? Are we going to do anything about it?' I got no response."

(Image courtesy of TechCrunch)

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