Timberlake to Gaga: Hollywood courts social media

Mon Jul 25, 2011 7:19pm EDT
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By Mary Slosson

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - When you think of Bono or Lady Gaga, the term "Silicon Valley entrepreneur" hardly springs to mind.

For now, at least. The U2 frontman and pop sensation join Justin Timberlake and Ashton Kutcher among the growing ranks of celebrities who, rather than employ their star power to hawk consumer products, are increasingly driving high-tech investments.

Hollywood has always held a certain fascination for the monied elite, from Wall Street bankers to Middle Eastern oil sheiks. Now, it seems Hollywood is returning the favor and dabbling in a bit of capital resource-allocation of its own.

Timberlake made waves in late June when he bought a stake in ailing social network Myspace alongside digital advertising company Specific Media. The actor-singer will play a crucial role in revitalizing the web company.

"We live in a world of brands," said Howard Bragman, a public relations executive and founder of the strategic media agency Fifteen Minutes. "A handful of smart celebrities and their reps realize that all the areas where they can flex their marketing muscle are financial opportunities."

Savvy celebs are trying to fuse entertainment and social networking, closing the gap between performer and fan. That may well be the key to future success, according to Bragman.

Lady Gaga -- perhaps the most visible star on the social web -- teamed up with Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt's Tomorrow Ventures to invest in Backplane, slated to launch in the last week of August. Backplane -- a sort of social network for rabid fans of everything from football to, yes, pop music -- has raised over $1 million in funding.

"Celebrities, above all others, have to understand the importance of new media in order to survive. Social media platforms, in particular, are where celebrity careers either thrive or decline," said Johanna Blakley, managing director at the University of Southern California's Norman Lear Center.   Continued...

<p>Justin Timberlake accepts the Big Help award at the 24th annual Nickelodeon Kids' Choice Awards in Los Angeles April 2, 2011. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni</p>