Justin Thinks Out of the Box

Timberlake’s reported MySpace talent search quest could be a key part of the future of entertainment

Justin Timberlake, the musician/latent funnyman/actor/entrepreneur who played Napster’s Sean Parker in the movie about Facebook, is part of the team that just bought MySpace – apparently so he can become an Internet version of Simon Cowell.

And the venture, though not without risk, might just turn out to be Timberlake's best gift to pop culture since "D--- in a Box."

Timberlake reportedly is mulling turning the faltering social network site into a platform to find new talent, possibly through some kind of competition show. While details are scarce, the idea has the potential to become a key part of the future of entertainment – and sounds like a natural for Timberlake.

Between his music career, his well-received role in “The Social Network,” his knack for comedy as seen on “Saturday Night Live” and his Web dealings, Timberlake has become kind of an Internet-era Kevin Bacon, with few degrees of separation between him and the various tentacles of entertainment media.

Timberlake and his partners bought MySpace last week for $35 million from Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp., which paid $580 million for the one-time major Facebook rival six years ago. The performer is smart enough to see there’s still some value in MySpace as a spot for musicians and other artists to create quick and connected Web presences.

He’s also smart enough to recognize not only that more and more entertainment is emanating from the Web, but that the Internet increasingly is a platform for new talent to emerge. Justin Bieber was discovered via YouTube, which has spawned celebrities of all types and helped fuel the Lady Gaga phenomenon. Talent shows still rule the TV airwaves, but even “American Idol” only introduced something as seemingly elementary as online voting this past season.
There’s a certain democracy – if not purity – to using the Web to find the next big thing (or a lot of worthy not-so-big next things), particularly in a DIY media era. People are quicker to vote with their clicks than by calling or texting during a TV show. In an age of instant sharing via social networking and the let-it-all-hang-out ethos of Reality TV, more people are apt to show off what talent they have – or decidedly don’t.

There’s a need for folks who can help filter out the sheer mass of the bad from the good. Timberlake, a multi-hyphenate for a multi-media era, stands as a star poised to find the new stars, in a set up that would potentially link the Internet, TV and the music business. However his MySpace gambit turns out, it’s encouraging to see that he's daring to think, um, outside of the box.

Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NYCity News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is the former City Editor of the New York Daily News, where he started as a reporter in 1992. Follow him on Twitter.

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