Video-Chat Start-Up Airtime Struggles Despite Celebrity Support (Report)

Ashton Kutcher
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Ashton Kutcher is often credited with helping brand Twitter into the micro-blogging phenomenon it is today. But in a surprising action, given his tech-evangelism, the actor-slash-investor in internet startups -- and future Steve Jobs impersonator -- abruptly relinquished control of his account to management after a tone-deaf post about legendary Penn State football coach Joe Paterno. Having learned his lesson, Kutcher -- or someone pretending to be him -- continues to crank out a continuous stream of (PR-friendly) tweets.

Napster founder Shawn Fanning has dropped his day-to-day role at the firm, in which Ashton Kutcher is an investor.


Celebrity-supported video-chat start-up Airtime, launched this year by the co-founders of Napster, has run into early challenges, the Wall Street Journal reported.

The product, available via a Facebook app, has failed to attract a big group of users so far, and co-founder Shawn Fanning has dropped his day-to-day involvement at the company, it said, citing sources. It mentioned that fewer than 500 users have visited the site every day, according to research firm AppData.

Ashton Kutcher and prominent venture capital firms have invested a total of about $33.5 million in the company.

Fanning, who remains a board member though, and business partner Sean Parker had organized a celebrity-filled media launch this summer with such stars as Jim Carrey and Olivia Munn.

Parker's status as CEO remains unclear, the Journal said. He was always planning to fill the role for a limited period of time and is already exploring other options, it said.

"We're a start-up, and we're very early in our development," Parker told the Journal. "There is a lot more to come from Airtime over the next several months. The kind of expectations that have been placed on Airtime are unrealistic for any start-up - it's much too soon to say anything about the company since we've only unveiled a small portion of our product plan."

He emphasized that there has not been any interruption in service. "The board and investors all remain committed to the Airtime vision and management team," he said.

Twitter: @georgszalai