Charlie Sheen “Winning” it for Ustream

NBC had Milton Berle in 1948.

CNN had a Baghdad in 1991.

FOX had the NFC in 1994.

Ustream has Charlie Sheen in 2011.

Each broadcast event was a tipping point.  It made people pay attention.  It helped make the network.

Love it, hate it or just can’t help but stare at it, Charlie Sheen and his “Sheen’s Korner” online show is “winning” it for Ustream, helping it bounce to a new level of mainstream consumer awareness.

Charlie Sheen Ustream Sheens CornerSheen, who broadcast his latest episode, “Building the Perfect Torpedo,” live at 10 p.m. Tuesday, is certainly attracting people to the Ustream tent.  The audience peaked at about 59,300 simultaneous viewers according to the counter below the live player.  Sheen didn’t actually start talking until about 10:05 and finished by 10:14, so he’s not trying to execute with the precision of broadcast TV scheduling.

The show uses the tagline,”You’re either in Sheen’s-Korner, or you’re with the trolls.”  Even the show name is bi-polar, using a hyphenated “Sheen’s-Korner” in some places and dropping the hyphen in others.

Ustream is following a tried and true broadcasting method for turning a big event into an audience builder.

Step 1: Get one buzzworthy program to attract attention.

Step 2: Use that event as a springboard for other programming.

Step 3: Hope some people stick around if and when the star from Step 1 is committed.

In this case, the live page featured a big box ad for “The Adam Carolla Show” on Ustream. “Sheen’s Korner” was followed by a full-screen ad for the next live Ustream show, “Fleischer’s Universe” from comedian Charles Fleischer.

The live viewership is small by broadcast standards, but it’s still twice the size of my hometown in Texas and enough to fill a “Major League” baseball stadium (pun intended).  More importantly, the stats on the “Sheen’s Korner” page show it is getting significant views in on-demand replays.

Episode Views so far
Episode 2 1,048,274
Episode 3 1,621,576
Episode 4 781,969

It only took 24 hours for Episode 4 to get that many viewers. (Where is Episode 1?  Duh! Out winning with warlock powers somewhere!)

Charlie Sheen Ustream Fleischers Universe promoBy comparison, “Fleischer’s Universe” aired live 45 minutes after “Sheen’s Korner” and had only 2,031 views in the following 24 hours. But that’s a big jump from Fleischer’s previous episode (684 views) and the ones before that (7 to 170 views).  Sheen’s lead-in may have grown Fleischer’s regular audience by 20 times. The lead-in benefit would probably have been bigger if Sheen had filled the hour and Ustream cut seamlessly to Fleischer.

Charlie Sheen Ustream Social Media WindowUstream’s Web-based show page includes a social media chat window.  The posts about Sheen were coming in so quickly from sources such as Twitter that I could hardly read them.  The chat window was almost useless until I scrolled down to make it freeze in the spot I was reading.  That can be an issue with any live chat-type event where the pace of audience posts comes at you like a fire hose, so it would help to apply some kind of a throttle or to tell users how to pause the feed.

The technical quality of “Sheen’s Korner” fell somewhere between a Skype call and a public access TV show.  The video looked good as long as Sheen didn’t move.  As soon as he started shifting in his chair or gesturing with his hands, the video would freeze slightly with a Max Headroom-like effect.  My first guess is he needs greater bandwidth from his house.  My next guess is to get a cable modem powered by tiger blood.

I think you’re likely to see more stars experiment with Ustream now as a creative outlet for the convenience and creative control.  This may also be a break for Ustream to get more advertisers on board and greenlight more high-profile shows.  Someday we may look back and say “Sheen’s Korner” was the start of Ustream becoming a grown-up network.  Of course, wherever you find success, you will find more imitators looking to start up the same thing (and there have already been plenty).  I can’t think of any unique barriers to entry, so Ustream will need to build brand awareness and add to their programming slate quickly to keep any advantage.  They’ll also have to make sure their technology can grow to match, which could require cash.

“Sheen’s Korner” could be short-lived as a live stream.  Sheen is reportedly in talks with Mark Cuban’s HDNet.  That brings up another risk for Ustream.  They could become a place where new concepts find success only to jump to traditional TV.  Perhaps Ustream could keep a piece of the action and provide a companion presence for shows picked up by networks in exchange for technical and promotional support in the early stages.

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