Newspaper article Charleston Gazette Mail

Led by Seinfeld Show, Sony's Crackle Carving Online Niche

Newspaper article Charleston Gazette Mail

Led by Seinfeld Show, Sony's Crackle Carving Online Niche

Article excerpt

LOS ANGELES - Sometimes what worked in the old days of TV can work online. A celebrity star. A funny show brought to you by a major sponsor. The ability to seep into the nation's collective cultural consciousness. That's what's happening at Crackle, Sony Pictures' online network. It's been on a roll lately, riding on the coattails of Jerry Seinfeld's hit show, "Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee. The network is on track to being profitable, according to leaked documents from last year's Sony hack. And it's investing in new shows, like the stop-motion animated comedy "SuperMansion, which is debuting this week, and Dennis Quaid-led drama, "The Art of More.

Starting earlier this year, Crackle is looking more like old- fashioned TV than ever: When the app is opened using a Roku 3 streaming box, video just starts playing, as if you've turned on your TV. The feeling is immediately familiar. Just like TV, sometimes what pops on screen is the middle of an episode of "Seinfeld.

Crackle General Manager Eric Berger calls it the "best of both worlds combining traditional TV and the Internet. You can re-start the show from the beginning, click around to watch old episodes, or just sit back and let it wash over you. It's come a long way since being rebranded as Crackle after Sony bought the streaming video platform Grouper in 2006.

From being a website only, now the service is on more than two dozen applications and devices, from smartphones to major video game consoles and streaming devices. Sony has built up an ad sales force and technology for displaying ads. It replaced amateur video clips with old movies from the Sony archives like "Taxi Driver and "Jerry Maguire, added TV shows and movies from other companies, and now is getting into originals. Crackle has 18 million visitors a month.

The success of Seinfeld's "Comedians - which has over 100 million views so far - showed that a pop culture hit could come out of the digital world, Berger said.

"It put us in a different light, he said. "And it made some of that momentum more public than it had been.

How successful has it been? According to budget documents unearthed in the hack and hosted on WikiLeaks.org, Crackle was on track to become profitable in the fiscal year through this past March on $63 million in revenue, up from $39 million a year earlier.

That's a modest success inside a studio as large as Sony, which has annual revenue around $6 billion. But it is one formula for making video entertainment work online. Unlike counterparts like Netflix, Hulu or Amazon Instant Video, Crackle is completely free to the consumer, making money from sponsorships, ads and reselling shows to overseas networks, including traditional TV networks.

For Seinfeld, success came from trying something fresh in an all- new format. In "Comedians, Seinfeld drives up to the home of a famous comedian like David Letterman or Stephen Colbert in a classic car outfitted with GoPro cameras. …

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