Tuesday, December 28, 2004

The Expanding Number of Celebrities

I’m going to throw out these names; chances are you or someone reading this, identifies them as celebrities: Scott Petersen, Larry King, Ronn Owens, Dennis Richmond, Kelly Perdue, Mike Silver, Bill O’Reilly, Rae Hollit, Bill Gates, Jerry Brown, Paula Poundstone, Paris Hilton, Jennifer C, Omarosa, Katie Couric, Petra Nikova, Kevin Bacon, Ashley Simpson, Anne Coulter, Oprah Winfrey, Madonna, Rich Isen, Andrea Kramer, Jennifer Griffin, Kenny Witherspoon, Craig Newmark and Jan Wahl.

OK. Some of them you recognize, and others leave you scratching your head. I’ll help you with a few. Petra Nikova is the once unknown "supermodel" whose recent claim to fame is that she was hanging from a tree for eight hours after the Tsunami struck in Thailand. Kenny Witherspoon is a Bay Area Olympian whose face is on a late night commercial pushing a new kind of health candy bar for athletes. Rae Hollit is a female bodybuilder who has been in several feature films. Some of the other you know, but you can tell me whom you recognize.

Kelly Perdue is the most recent winner of "The Apprentice." The reality show concept is the newest form of celebrity-producing TV program. These new celebrities truly walk among us. Remember Andrew Firestone from "The Bachelor"? He’s your typical San Francisco Marina District guy, only now he walks with a baseball cap turned down over his brow. Who’s next?
What’s the point? I’m personally convinced that celebrities surround us and that our culture is creating them at a record pace. I’ve not sat down to calculate the number, but I’ll divide celebrities into these categories: entertainment, news, expert, Internet, business, reality, sports, and commercial.

In my view of this, celebrities can not only come from any of these categories, but also be in more than one of them. For example, Paris Hilton is an Internet celebrity. She’s one of the most searched names online according to Lycos (http://www.lycos.com) and let’s face it, that infamous sex video had something to do with it.

But with her show "The Simple Life" Paris has moved into the entertainment area. So, she’s in both camps, now. Ronn Owens is the host of the number one ranked talk show in The Bay Area (right Ronn?). He’s in the entertainment area. But with just an investment push, I think Ronn could go into the Internet area, he just needs a good blog. (Taking the hint, Ronn?)

Craig Newmark is the founder of Craigslist. He fits in the Internet area, and if he has his way, he’ll stay there. But can he control this? Already, he’s featured in the most recent Esquire Magazine as a business genius, so guess what? He falls in the business area, too. His "Craig Takes On Hollywood" causes him to flirt with the entertainment category. He will only firmly place himself in that area when he’s discovered dating someone like…Mena Suvari? (The American Pie and American Beauty star is certainly his type…c’mon Craig, chime in, here.)
In a world of not only 500-channel television, but also smaller and smaller video recording devices, and now cameras in cell phone, anyone can be captured doing anything. All it takes is a savvy and determined person to put that something online, and all of a sudden (depending on what they do and if their name’s released) that someone is a celebrity.

If you match this with an increasing hunger for content, you have the next wave of celebrity development. What do I mean? Well, think about Law and Order. The TV show is everywhere. As I recall, it started on the NBC Television Network, but now re-runs can be seen on TNT and other cable networks. There’s Law and Order, Law and Order SVU (for Special Victim’s Unit) and perhaps some other version I’m not aware of. Why so many? Well, demand. (They’re good shows). Also the supply of cable channels willing to buy them. But that’s only part of the answer. The other part lies in the word "content." There are a lot of channels in search of good content, or in some cases, just plain content.

Ever watch late night TV? If so, you have seen the show "Girls Gone Wild," or at least noticed it and turned the channel. The idea of the show is to go into nightclubs with a camera and ask women to do things that the requestor would normally get slapped for. The content of the show is simply, easy, and low cost to produce. If the makers asked the people on the show to give their names, they would become celebrities over night.

I’m not saying this is good or bad. I’m just pointing out a fascinating development in our society. Heck it’s one I want to harness for Sports Business Simulations (http://www.sbs-world.com ) I’m really interested in where this is taking us as a society.

Remember the 11-year old who spoke on behalf of Senator John Kerry? I forgot her name, and while I could look her up here online, I’ll leave you to help me. In fact, that’s the point. Someone will remember her. What she does with this will determine her future, like it or not. I write that because opportunities based on her national exposure will certainly come her way, if they haven’t already.

I think we’re going to evolve into a culture of instant celebrity. PR people will be judged more on their ability to get their clients on TV. Some of them may even create Internet shows for their clients. More and more people will have websites, and by 2020, it will be expected for one to have a website of some kind.

One walk of our culture where this is already the case is that of female bodybuilders and fitness models. (OK, yes, I like them, so let’s get that out of the way.) But what’s real interesting is the enormous number of websites for them. I would bet there are about 1,000 of them at present, and range from simple one-page constructs to multi-page giants with various sections. If one considers the number of ways there are to make websites, and also web-based groups (which I will count in this case) the numbers and growth are staggering. (I must add that the websites I have seen are poorly monetized, and the women are avoiding a great way to generate link-click revenue by using Google Adsense.)

Another place in our culture where this is the case is the personal ad. Each ad is a website for the person that’s featured. This goes for member directories of Internet Service Providers, too. So, from this perspective, we’re already well on our way toward my 2020 prediction.
Where will this take us next? Let me know what you think. And if you see a camera, present a release form for the shooter to sign. I’m semi-serious here. Get used to controlling your image, because someone else will.