April 16th, 2009
10:07 AM ET

Ashton Kutcher challenges CNN to Twitter popularity contest

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/04/16/art.kutcher.jpg caption="Ashton Kutcher (here with wife, Demi Moore) challenged CNN to a popularity contest." width=292 height=320]
Ashton Kutcher has challenged CNN to a popularity contest on the social media site Twitter.

The celebrity and the news network are racing to get 1 million followers on the micro-blogging site, where users post 140-character messages.

Kutcher challenged CNN to the race with a Web video posted on Tuesday. If he wins, Kutcher says he will "ding-dong ditch" CNN founder Ted Turner's house.

"I found it astonishing that one person can actually have as big of a voice online as what an entire media company can on Twitter," Kutcher says in a video, which was shot from inside a car and was posted on Qik.com.

"So I just thought that was just kind of an amazing comment on the state of our media, and I said that, if I beat CNN to 1 million viewers, then I would ding-dong ditch Ted Turner - because I don't think it's gonna happen." Watch video of Kutcher's challenge »

As of Wednesday afternoon, Kutcher's Twitter account had 896,947 followers, putting him in third place in the number of followers. Britney Spears was in second with about 905,640 followers, and CNN's breaking news account was watched by 937,787 people on the site.

No single Twitter account has attracted 1 million followers, according to TwitterCounter and Twitterholic, two sites tracking the most popular Twitter users.

CNN maintains 45 official Twitter accounts, with a total of more than 1.3 million followers. Kutcher is racing the network's breaking-news feed specifically.

CNN's breaking-news feed on Twitter was launched three years ago by James Cox, a British web developer, as a way to get CNN news alerts on his mobile phone, said CNN spokeswoman Jennifer Martin.

In a development unrelated to Kutcher's challenge, CNN acquired the rights to the Twitter account from Cox this week, said Martin, who would not disclose terms of the deal.

"We've been working closely with [Cox] for the past two years," Martin said. "It's a good example of how a large media company can partner with its audience in innovative ways."

An information technology consultant in Croatia who is interested in the outcome of the contest has been tracking the rate of new followers for CNN and Kutcher. Marin PurgarsaysKutcher will beat CNN to the 1 million follower mark before 4 p.m. ET on Thursday.

CNN will hit the 1 million mark by 1 p.m. ET on Friday, based on Purgar's projection, which assumes the rate of new followers for the past 20 minutes will continue, he said by phone Wednesday. Purgar said he will continue to post updates to the data on his Twitter account.

Kutcher has been posting like mad to his account since challenging CNN to the battle. The celebrity - known for the TV shows "Punk'd" and "That 70s Show," as well as for being married to actress Demi Moore - has offered to give his millionth follower a copy of the video game "Guitar Hero."

He also says on Twitter he will donate 10,000 mosquito bed nets to charity for World Malaria Day in late April if he beats CNN, and 1,000 if he loses. CNN has agreed to do the same, Martin said.

CNN hosts Larry King and Rick Sanchez responded Tuesday to the Twitter race on CNN television. Watch Larry King's response

In a video message that aired on CNN's "Larry King Live," the talk show host grinned as he accepted Kutcher's challenge.

King also teased Kutcher about his threat to ring Ted Turner's doorbell and then run away, noting that Turner formerly ran CNN and is not directly associated with the network today.

Kutcher responded to the video on his Twitter account with this post: "ok larry king is now one of my new favorite people and this means war lets go tweeps."

King has invited Kutcher to appear on his show, "Larry King Live." Kutcher, saying "this is a saga for the Internet," asked King to come on his "twit show" to settle things.

The battle has gained much attention on Twitter, with fans pulling for both sides.

Some online writers on Wednesday said the goofy race may be a real symbol of what's to come for Twitter.

MG Siegler, a writer for TechCrunch, a technology news site, said Twitter has gained popularity largely through breaking news feeds.

If Kutcher wins the race with CNN, Siegler said, it may indicate a symbolic shift toward personalities dominating the site. iReport.com: Twitter, Facebook growing pains?

"When Twitter started out, it seemed like its most practical usage would be doing stuff like breaking news," Siegler said by phone. "There was all the earthquake news, all the fire news ... that made it pretty interesting to a lot of people. But now, obviously, Twitter's gone to the whole next level with all the news coverage and all the celebrities who are starting to use it."

Kutcher may seek popularity, but he seems genuinely interested in interacting with his followers, which is a key to success on the site, Siegler said.

The battle highlights another Twitter trend: celebrities using their accounts to pump up charities and causes, not just their own fame. Kutcher may help charities fight malaria if he beats CNN, and actor Hugh Jackman posted this note on his Twitter account Tuesday, indicating he will donate $100,000 to a fan's favorite charity:

"I will donate 100K to one individual's favorite non profit organization. Of course, you must convince me why by using 140 characters or less."

So far, Jackman has received Twitter responses from people interested in combating poverty, water shortages and anti-gay discrimination, among other causes.

Andrew Cherwenka, a Huffington Post contributor and Web developer at Trapeze.com, said celebrities are starting to realize they can use their large Twitter followings to enact social change.

"He's got a lot of people listening to him," he said of Kutcher. "What's he saying?"

Filed under: 360° Radar
soundoff (6 Responses)
  1. Isabel Siaba

    It lack little CNN ... for @aplusk to overcome. Only 144! But the race continues until 1M!

    It seems !aplusk will win! So, stay for the next! But worth a joke and the intention!!

    April 16, 2009 at 9:35 pm |
  2. Lori S.

    Hi, I really enjoy watching CNN. I never thought i would be, and, i also have my husband watching it quite often now. I remember when i was in college, and i wrote a paper called "The Information Highway", just a couple of years before the internet really took off. I was afraid and excited at the same time of what a mass of information would do or be like at your finger tips. The paper got an A.... I have been listening to star's get involved not only with the news media persons, but also seeing their heart involved toward the needs of others in need. Far beyond what i have ever seen. I thank Larry King and others for all you do everday for everyone... I believe King and Kutcher will get an A, and all their followers too 🙂 Thank you to whom may read this, & have a fun sunny day. sincerely, Lori

    April 16, 2009 at 6:26 pm |
  3. Annie Kate

    Well Kutcher has 968,528 followers at the time I am commenting on this. CNN Breaking news has 974,297. Really close. I hope Kutcher wins – sorry CNN but sometimes its nice to know that an individual can win out over a big company. Whoever wins though, at least charity will be the bigger winner at the end.

    April 16, 2009 at 5:29 pm |
  4. Isabel Siaba

    Twitter was founded in March 2006 and we can consider that only now had its boom!

    I have seen comments criticizing this contest, but I'm thinking this joke very fun. If there were not this kind of thing, life would be boring and without grace, right? And Twitter is awesome.

    Nobody listen to me on CNN, but @aplusk is very fun!
    But even more fun was Larry King to feel uncomfortable with the challenge. lol ...

    If the challenge now is to reach 1 million followers, the biggest challenge for me, always, is to put my ideas in less than 140 characters ... lol ...

    Good luck!

    April 16, 2009 at 1:38 pm |
  5. Cindy

    I watched Kutcher on UStream yesterday when he was talking about this. He also made a side bet if you will with Ted's daughter yesterday and he is going to donate 10,000 mosquito nets to Africa and she'll get Ted to publicly say he is voting for Kutcher to win. So this is going to do some people good and isn't all a publicity stunt. I cast my vote for Kutcher...SORRY CNN! BTW he has 953,624 followers now. CNNBrk is who he is really going up against they have 966,788 followers.


    April 16, 2009 at 12:13 pm |
  6. Stacy

    Since both contenders will be donating mosquito bed nets, I'm going to have to throw my support behind Ashton. Of course, my vote could totally be swayed if Anderson Cooper pledged to “ding-dong ditch” Bruce Willis.

    April 16, 2009 at 10:30 am |