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Building Crackle Into ‘More’ Than OTT

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Crackle is hoping to break into the big leagues of streaming services with the help of new original series, including the Nov. 19 debut of glitzy drama The Art of More, set in the fictitious realm of New York City art-auction houses and featuring star turns by Dennis Quaid, Cary Elwes and Kate Bosworth.

Over the past five years, the unit of Sony Pictures Television has evolved from offering short-form content, then adding Web series, to now creating long-form TV and films. While The Art of More is the free, ad-supported platform’s first original scripted series, in early October Crackle reached another milestone with the launch of stopmotion animated series SuperMansion, voiced by Emmy Award winner Bryan Cranston.

With 18 million monthly users in the U.S. and availability via 30 different applications for connected TVs, smartphones, tablets and the Web, Crackle has taken pains to ensure its content is pervasive and accessible. To that end, its content also comes in three languages and is available in 21 countries.

‘OTT’ IS TEMPORARY

As executive vice president of digital networks at Sony Pictures Television and general manager of Crackle, Eric Berger has helped develop the division into Sony’s always-on global streaming network. He is responsible for the development, production and distribution of original features and series created for Crackle. He also oversees all programming, marketing, distribution, product, video operations and engineering, as well as ad sales for Crackle and PlayStation Vue.

While it’s tempting to call Crackle another over-the-top provider, Berger eschews the term, calling it “temporary.”

“We view ourselves much more akin to a TV network,” he said. “We’re in the best of both worlds between TV and streaming, and we’re programming with original content. We’ve gone from shortform websites to half-hours, to features and one-hour dramas. We’re growing and evolving.”

Berger said Crackle has aimed for a seamless streaming experience that mirrors programmed linear-TV viewing. When a viewer launches the Crackle app, a scheduled program begins to play, and consumers can browse for something else in the channel guide while continuing to watch the show that’s currently on.

While viewers can always watch something on-demand, Crackle also offers multiple scheduled channels of themed content that vary by daypart.

Berger’s team analyzed consumer behavior with OTT and found that the connected TV category was the most desirable for streaming video into the home.

There were also differences in behavior among users of Roku boxes, Apple TV boxes and game consoles vs. linear TV. The idea of coming home and watching whatever’s on TV is a thing of the past — connected-TV users were simply watching whatever was on, the team found.

This fall, Crackle rolled out the always- on experience on a number of connected devices, including Roku, PlayStation, Xbox, Amazon Fire TV and Android TV.

Consumers started to take notice of Crackle in a big way in 2013 when Comedians in Cars Drinking Coffee, the unscripted interview series produced by and starring Jerry Seinfeld, launched. That was Crackle’s first big crossover show, and it returns in January for a seventh season.

Dan Patrick’s Sports Jeopardy!, a weekly show produced in front of a live studio audience, takes Crackle even further into the pop-culture zeitgeist.

Berger made note of another differentiator for Crackle: Its shows go straight to series; there are no pilots. In addition, Crackle integrates advertisers early on in the process and because it’s backed by Sony, the shows are distributed globally. And by being both the studio and the network, Crackle has an end-to-end process that it sees all the way through from conception with the talent, through distribution. Plus it controls the ad sales.

‘TV AND NOTHING SHORT OF THAT’

Berger calls The Art of More and SuperMansion “TV and nothing short of that.”

“It’s the next evolution for us as we come up from movies and half-hours,” he said. “We want to position Crackle as the best of both worlds — we’re on-demand and we’re a linear network.”

Crackle’s predominantly 18-to-34- year-old male demographic is also evolving and the network is looking more at the psychographics of its streaming audience. “We’re focused on ‘rechargers,’ people who are in the prime of their professional lives, building careers, working hard and playing hard. They stream to relax, they over-index on game-console usage, and they want things that are hassle-free and accessible.”

Bridging the gap between linear TV and on-demand is what Crackle’s aiming for and it’s a sweet spot for Berger.

“I really enjoy the intersection of the art and the technology,” he said. “I like taking the data and learnings about the experiences consumers like to have and translating them into new experiences.”

“We’re introducing audiences to new worlds they haven’t seen before and aligning them thematically with other content that resonates and does well,” Berger added. “By using the data and seeing what works and doesn’t work, we can extrapolate.

“You’re going to see more and more original programming on Crackle,” he added.