This had to be one of the weirdest pieces of media I've ever seen: watching actor Ashton Kutcher, streaming live on the Web, and Anderson Cooper, broadcasting live on CNN, each pimping their Twitter accounts, trying to exhort the world to help them become the first to reach 1 million followers.
As Kutcher--as well as a host of guests at what I presume was his and wife Demi Moore's house, and even P. Diddy, who was on speakerphone at the house--put it, this was a battle between old-guard TV and newer-kid-on-the-block Web.
In the end, the battle to a million was about as close as it could be. And the winner late Thursday was Kutcher and the Web--never mind that Kutcher himself is a creature of old-guard TV and film.
He won by less than 2,000 total followers.
The race started heating up Wednesday when CNN acquired the @cnnbrk Twitter account--the largest Twitter account at the time with 947,000 followers. Kutcher was in second place at that point, with 917,000 followers.
Personally, I could care less about Kutcher's celebrity and his ability to get tons and tons of people to do the almost unbelievably easy task of clicking "follow" on his Twitter account. Rather, it was seeing this real-time face-off between Kutcher, streaming live on UStream, and Cooper, working it hard on his evening broadcast of "AC 360."
To be fair, Kutcher had an advantage: he was able to stay totally on message on his Web stream, while Cooper had to limit his exhortations to short bursts of enthusiasm sandwiched between, you know, real news stories.
Still, given the fact that there were clearly large numbers of people actively watching the battle, I have to admit that I'm surprised Cooper didn't cut to a report--and a live interview--with Kutcher once the victor was known.
So, variously, this was pure round-number stat cotton candy for the eyes, a down-to-the-wire, nail-biter race, and, I think, most importantly, a truly interesting and profound moment of genre vs. genre. Grassroots, democratic do-it-yourself Web streaming vs. big media at its most polished. Both reaching to the masses, referencing each other, live.
To be sure, the mixing of media is nothing new. But to me, and I'm certain many others who were watching the action live, there was something surreal about witnessing the urgency being expressed by both the guy in his living room and the guy on the professional news set, both being able to speak to theoretically unlimited numbers of people (well maybe not unlimited, but you know what I mean) and both standing tall for their medium.
Oh, and while I said I was surprised that Cooper didn't do an instant report on CNN about Kutcher's victory, that seems to be due to the limits of what TV allowed him to do. Like I said, he had news to report.
But over on the Web, where the linear constraints of TV don't apply, CNN's Twitter feed offered the network's well wishes.
"Congrats @aplusk," CNN's tweet read. "Ashton Kutcher is the first twitter account to reach 1MM followers."
Congrats, Ashton. And congrats, Web.