Actor Ashton Kutcher and Internet celebrity and Digg founder Kevin Rose held a 24 hour event last weekend at the Sundance Film Festival called 24HoursAtSundance.
Some observers are saying the event, which was sponsored by Qik, HP, Nokia and Nikon, was full of cheating, conflicts of interest and tasks that put participants in undue danger. Which frankly makes the event sound like a whole lot of fun. Except that very little of the video was ever uploaded to the Internet because of connectivity issues with the Nokia/Qik phones participants were given to record their exploits.
Four teams were invited to participate in an “online game show” where they would complete a series of tasks, some of which were humiliating, for points in the competition. The LA Times, CNET, AFP and other media picked up the story when it was heavily pushed by Ashton’s company, Katalyst Media.
Tasks included getting celebrities to say ridiculous things like “how many other celebrities have you slept with?” or “what is the worst thing you’ve asked your assistant to do.” Another task was to find a bar and get the bouncer to show his ID, or taking a Lat/Long point, traveling to it and writing something in chalk.
Participants were given a HP netbook, a nokia phone with Qik installed, a bottle of glue, a Nikon camera, a flashlight and $20. They were not allowed to bring their own devices or any cash or credit cards, and all tasks had to be completed with the materials given to them at the start of the event.
And the winning team, which was VentureBeat’s Matt Marshall and a news correspondent named Shira Lazar, smuggled in their own computer, say some people at the event. The HP netbook given to participants couldn’t get internet access, leaving the Matt/Shira team with an advantage when they had to research tasks or look up addresses.
That’s a fairly trivial issue for a small event like this one, but one that shouldn’t have been overlooked. Worse, say people at the event, Shira Lazar boasted all during the event that she was dating one of the organizers, a clear conflict of interest that became more egregious when she won.
The most pressing issue people are bringing up, though, is personal safety. Participants had to travel all over town during the event to complete tasks, and they had no vehicle or money for taxis. That led them to hitch rides with strangers in the middle of the night, many of whom were “excessively drunk frat boy types” cruising the festival. Participants also weren’t given anywhere to sleep, so they were finding hotel lobbies and other public places to pass out when they were exhausted.
To Kutcher’s credit, he said the event was a learning experience for his team and that they would likely make changes next year. Our advice – kill the event. Or if you must do it again, give participants a rental car or more money for taxis so they don’t have to hitch rides from drunk strangers at 3 am, and enforce the rules a little better. And if you must put participants in situations that may leave them hurt or abused, at least get the connectivity issue solved so that everyone can watch the train wreck happen in real time.