“Whatever Napster founders Sean Parker and Shawn Fanning paid the celebrities who attended this morning's unveiling of their new video-chat application, it wasn't enough.”
That is what the HuffPost and Techcrunch had to say about Airtime’s launch at Milk Studios yesterday. The heavily-anticipated startup failed miserably during its demo on stage, leaving an embarrassed Parker and Fanning nearly speechless.
The paid celebrity mascots Olivia Munn, Joel McHale, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Ed Helms and Jim Carrey were forced to flex every improvisational muscle they have in an effort to amuse an audience of skeptical tech bloggers and journalists as the demo for their new product, Airtime, failed one user-interaction test after another.
I can't actually thank you guys enough," Parker told his celebrity helpers at the end of the session, "because you took a completely fucked-up situation where everything was going to shit and actually salvaged it."
Even that may have been a bit optimistic. Sure, the jokes helped soothe the pain of yet another tech P.R. fiasco but there was no disguising the fact that the Airtime team had clearly spent more time and energy wrangling lineup than they had prepping the product.
Not to mention that the product itself appeared to have exactly two functions beyond simple video-chatting: users can easily play YouTube videos for their friends, and they can easily swap Facebook interests -- should they desire to do so, for some reason.
The problems began early, as journalists were forced to wait inside a hot, stuffy holding room while functionaries scrambled to put the finishing touches on the presentation. About an hour after the announced start time, Jimmy Fallon took the stage for a Q&A with Parker and Fanning that went reasonably well.
But, the real nightmare began when Parker and his hired celebrity hands began showing off the product itself -- using what he would defensively describe as "this weird demo staging environment that's designed for you guys." He began by "calling" Olivia Munn, who was backstage. Their banter was entertaining enough -- until her video feed froze.
Then she took the stage and attempted to phone Snoop Dogg in California, multiple times, only to encounter the video-chat equivalent of a busy signal -- an embarrassing error that would recur again and again over the course of the event. After repeated attempts, Snoop was eventually patched in, but he and Alicia Keys -- who dialed in from what looked like her bedroom -- had it easy. They didn't have to stand there in front of the audience and suffer.
I'm just out here with 300 of my closest friends, who are judging," a visibly uncomfortable Julia Louis-Dreyfus said at one point. By the way, I'm Matthew Lillard, everyone," McHale said, trying to kill time -- and defer blame -- during one seemingly endless tech delay. Thank God you guys are funny, because we're screwed right now," Parker observed. Sean, whose ass are you going to fire?" McHale asked.
Representatives for Airtime said, "The glitches from this morning's launch were generated by a custom built intranet for the event, not Airtime. We are happy to report the Airtime network is working and running smoothly…. Only time will tell, but Airtime is certainly off to a rough start.