While painful (for most folks) to watch, the actor's explosion has created a bonanza for the tabloid mill that has long used him as a sort of one-man industry. But on a broader level, Sheen also offers a potential shot in the arm for companies across the spectrum. In fact, in an economy that remains sluggish, the tawdry-yet-compelling spectacle of what Sheen might do next might be one of the few growth industries around.
For TV networks and media companies, the Sheen meltdown has already been a windfall. Eagerly seeking publicity, the actor has appeared on NBC's (GE) Today Show, ABC's (DIS) 20/20 as well as CNN and TMZ (TWX). In addition to the massive ad sales that the networks have enjoyed from their regular screenings of the sweaty, fidgety actor, the interviews are also available online, which will generate even further revenue.
What Ginger Lynn Might Say
Sirius radio (SIR) also stands to be a winner. While Sheen's network TV appearances have been compelling, his visit to Howard Stern's show delved into some of the grottier details of his unorthodox home life. And even beyond Stern's unrestrained romp through the teetering remains of Sheen's career, Sirius has another Sheen-related revenue stream: It also features the actor's ex-girlfriend, Ginger Lynn, as the host of Night Calls on its Playboy Radio channel. Given the relative silence of many of Sheen's more famous paramours, if Lynn decides to talk about her experiences with the actor, she should find a rapt audience.
On the surface, CBS (CBS) stands to be a big loser in the Sheen debacle: After all, Two and a Half Men commands a reported $206,722 for every 30 seconds of ad time and is the cornerstone of CBS's Monday night programming. The network and Warner Brothers have signed a contract to run the show for at least two more years, a plan that could be derailed by the actor's meltdown.
But even CBS might have an upside. On January 31, 11 million people tuned in to watch a rerun of the show. While that's about 4 million less than the average new-episode audience, it's pretty impressive for a rerun. In the meantime, CBS is saving on production costs. The network has announced that it will continue to pay crew salaries for the show, but it's currently saving $2 million per episode on Sheen's salary alone.
For that matter, the actor's public meltdown seems likely to keep helping with ratings because people who normally wouldn't watch the show will tune in to reruns of Sheen's disintegration in front of the camera.
And CBS also owns the show's backlog, which will likely come in handy as fans will want to watch older episodes on DVD. And, CBS's Entertainment Tonight is sure to have fodder for at least a few episodes.
One Really Big Winner
Speaking of tabloid journalism, the Sheen saga offers a huge payday for the grubbier end of the news industry. Unfortunately for investors, most of the big gossip rags, including The National Enquirer, Star, Globe, Life & Style and InTouch, are privately owned. But the granddaddy of slick tabloids, People, is part of Time Warner. And the magazine has already dug deep into the Sheen mess, running articles in both print and online.
If Sheen's plan to bring CBS to its knees doesn't work out, an MTV or VH1 program would be a nice backup plan for the star. Between his oddly compelling on-screen personality and the slightly dazed expressions of his two "goddesses" -- Rachel Oberlin and Natalie Kenly -- life at Chez Sheen seems guaranteed to bring in viewers.
It isn't hard to imagine the elevator pitch: If Viacom decides to take a more tasteful route, it could try something along the lines of Charlie's Goddesses, an Osbournes-type show that would simply record day-to-day life at the compound. Alternatively, given the popularity of Sister Wives, the show could try a dating-style format as contestants vie to become the third member of Sheen's harem. With a title along the lines of Charlie's Family, the show seems to have a built-in audience. What's more, there's an obvious choice for host: Now that she's out of prison, Manson devotee Squeaky Fromme is probably looking for work.
Here's another investment possibility: There's some argument over whether Sheen's problems are the result of cocaine addiction or bipolar disorder. Either way, pharmaceutical giants Bristol-Meyers Squibb (BMY) and Glaxo Smith Kline (GSK) are poised to show a little Sheen bump because they sell drugs to treat both illnesses. Imagine the business boost the drugmakers would get if the actor openly endorses any of their remedies.
On a broader level, however, the actor has emerged as a strong spokesman for self-medication: His chain smoking in interviews was, effectively, an endorsement for the calming power of nicotine. Then again, given Sheen's disheveled appearance and his admission that he "regrets the cigarettes, but not the drugs," Reynolds American (RAI) and Altria Group (MO) might want to pause before cracking the champagne.
For all its potential economic value, Charlie's meltdown carries more than a whiff of bad taste, and it seems likely that audiences will soon tire of watching the actor self-destruct. However, with careful timing, savvy investors should be able to enjoy a bright moment or two of Sheen-related revenues before the bubble pops.
And with any luck, the end of the Sheen era will dovetail with another celebrity meltdown, offering forward-looking investors a potentially endless source of revenue. Any word on what Amy Winehouse is up to?