Berger: Data Drives Crackle’s Programming Decisions #TCA15

The cyber attack that has shaken Sony Pictures Entertainment did not leave its over-the-top streaming service Crackle untouched. Eric Berger, general manager of Crackle and executive VP of digital networks for Sony Pictures Television, acknowledged Tuesday when addressing reporters at the TCA winter press tour.

“I would give you a little background on myself, but since Crackle is part of Sony Pictures, you can do the search online,” Berger said. “Only this year you’ll find some exciting tidbits—like my salary and my kids’ school play schedules.” Among the other tidbits to be found in the emails released by hackers in December was a discussion among Sony executives about a possible sale of 51% of Crackle.

Berger was on hand to introduce a panel for Joe Dirt 2: Beautiful Loser, an original feature produced by Crackle with Adam Sandler’s Happy Madison. Prior to the panel, Berger announced a sixth season for the service’s signature show, Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee and a second screen app for new game show Sports Jeopardy! Afterward, he spoke with B&C.

Is original feature film a new direction that is important for the overall digital-steaming, OTT world?

It’s an important part of media creation, and an important part of what audiences are consuming on services like ours. And so when you go to do original production you want it to compliment original programming. In the case of Joe Dirt, we know from Joe Dirt one on Crackle that people are eating it up and loving it and consuming it every time that we put it on. So when you go and do a feature like this, it’s going to package really well. It’s true for some of the other features that we talked about as well. We know that thriller that we’re making and the zombie picture that we’re making based on the Dead Rising game are going to do really well on Crackle because of like content.

As you expand your original programming, how much are your decisions data-driven?

There’s a lot of data that we have and use and it only makes sense to incorporate that into the decision-making process. Sometimes you use the data to make a leap. Sports Jeopardy! is an example. We know from making Jeopardy! for 30 years as a company how to make a show like that, how to turn out content on a weekly basis 52 weeks a year, which is something no other company has done. But the exact fit for consumers—we’re extrapolating that from the data of the male audience that indexes higher in terms of watching sports and wanting sports content and wanting entertainment content, so we took a little bit of a blend here of art and science.

When you’re taking your data to the advertising community, are they hungry for a standardization of measurement that maybe doesn’t exist yet?

Standardization between TV and digital is something that everybody is really wanting. We work very closely with comScore and Nielsen on that. We’ve taken a couple steps. The first is that we announced about a year ago with comScore that we would be the first to show unduplicated reach of our audience across online, mobile and connected TVs. So we can show that as co-viewing measured by comScore in the living room. Adobe announced about three months ago a partnership with Nielsen in which we’re going to be partners as well that will show Nielsen measured audience across all three platforms. So that will be the first time that you’ll have Nielsen measurement on connected TVs, which should really enable TV buyers to have a more seamless buying experience across all three platforms. That’s really where this is all headed, that video is video. You’re sitting in your living room. You’re watching a 50-inch TV. There’s terrific sound. There are ads, that are unskippable, by the way, so there’s a hundred percent viewability, and there’s targeting capabilities. Why shouldn’t that be measured the same and thought of the same as TV advertising? We think it should be.

You mentioned Sports Jeopardy! before. Comedians in Cars is probably your most recognized show. Is there a white space that you can occupy in unscripted when you compare to Hulu, Amazon, Netflix and other streaming services?

We have been having some good success in unscripted to date. We’re going to continue to look at more of that, because it is an opportunity, I think. But that’s not to say we’re not going to do scripted too. I think we’re just looking for, like many networks, a blend of features, half-hour scripted, long-form one-hour scripted, unscripted, game shows—having a real mix that you might see from a network. It’s different from an aggregated service where you put the content up and see what sticks for any audience. This is much more like a cable network that just happens to be over the top. It’s for a demographic. It has a sensibility. Content comes and goes. It’s very much programmed.

Are you looking for your House of Cards or Transparent?

To the extant that we are looking for a great show that both the critics and the fans enjoy? Sure. We want to create great programming that really resonates with our audience.

Was there ever any talk of you carrying The Interview?

There certainly was a lot of talk outside our company about it. Maybe people see this now, that Sony Pictures decided to pretty much follow traditional windows of distribution for this movie and to monetize it as such—so theatrical run right into video on demand and EST. The next logical window would be subscription video on demand. Ad-supported video on demand comes much further down the line. Crackle is an ad-supported video on demand service. That is the business model that we have, and we weren’t going to pivot just for this feature. So it’s likely that we’re going to get that in the appropriate window at the appropriate time.

In the emails that were leaked, you all were the subject of discussion of a possible sale. Is that something that is on the table going into 2015?

Crackle is not for sale. When you run a business, you’re always looking for different growth opportunities. That could mean more outside capital coming in. It could mean more investment opportunities internally. It’s just a variety of different options that one would explore, which is what that was. And we think we’re building a great business and just continue to look for ways to expand into new areas, into new markets.

Have the cyber attack and the events of the last couple months made your job more difficult in terms of talent relations?

It hasn’t. I think the good news for Crackle is that while all this was going on we’ve had uninterrupted service to consumers. We continued to stay live on 28 different platforms. We launched new content, Sports Jeopardy! every Wednesday. Comedians in Cars was launching every Thursday. Ads were coming and going through the biggest ad month of the year, December. Nothing stopped.