Crackle Cracks Into Comcast

Extending its first bridge to the traditional pay TV world, Crackle, the Sony-owned, ad-supported over-the-top service, landed a deal with Comcast that gives it a fresh outlet initially focused on Crackle’s growing lineup of original content.

The deal, which took effect last Wednesday (April 20), gives Crackle a foothold on Comcast’s set-top boxes as well as the Xfinity TV Go and Xfinity TV apps for smartphones, tablets and Web browsers. On launch day, Comcast was providing access to Crackle originals Chosen, The Art of More, The Unknown and Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, as well as a handful of movies, including Joe Dirt, Angel of Death, The Bannen Way, Held Up and Backwash. That’s a subset of Crackle’s full library, which typically offers access to hundreds of movies and hundreds, if not thousands, of TV episodes.

Crackle’s distribution via Comcast will also feature animated series SuperMansion (its second season will emerge in early 2017), as well as the addition of licensed and original programming that will be rolled in later. For example, StartUp, a scripted drama starring Martin Freeman, Adam Brody, Edi Gathegi and Otmara Marrero, is set to debut this fall.

The deal was a natural fit for Sony, which already had several “touch points” with Comcast and NBCUniversal spanning content licensing and production, Eric Berger, Sony Pictures Television executive vice president, digital networks and Crackle general manager, said.

Additionally, FreeWheel, the Comcast-owned online ad company, supplies the ad-server platform for Crackle.

“We are sort of natural partners,” Berger said, although he declined to discuss the specific commercial relationship between Crackle and Comcast. He also wouldn’t say if the MSO is getting a cut of the ad revenue on Crackle content that is delivered via Comcast’s platform.

Berger believes the agreement with Comcast will enable Crackle to reach viewers who are new to the service or who don’t use OTT to supplement their video viewing. It will also complement its separate app distribution on streaming platforms such as Web browsers; iOS and Android mobile devices; smart TVs; Roku players; Apple TV; Google Chrome-cast, Amazon Fire TV, the PlayStation 3 and PS4, and Xbox 360 and Xbox One consoles.

“There’s still a very large number of people who are getting their television consumption and video consumption from their set-top box and from their cable company,” he said. “I think [the agreement with Comcast] will be additive. It’s definitely incremental to what we’re trying to do and it really bridges the gap between the linear world and the on-demand world.

“The next way to go get large volumes of customers was to look at the MVPD universe,” Berger said, noting that Crackle is also having distribution discussions with other traditional pay TV providers.

Comcast, Crackle’s first such partner, ended 2015 with 22.34 million video subscribers, making it the largest U.S. cable operator. Berger said Crackle content will be offered on Comcast’s IP-connected X1 set-tops as well as older set-tops that rely on QAM/MPEG technology.

Crackle’s new focus on pay TV distribution follows a trend among other major OTT video companies.

Though Netflix has not been able to get on Comcast’s platform, it has successfully been integrated on TiVo-powered platforms from MSOs such as Suddenlink Communications, RCN and Atlantic Broadband, as well as Dish Network’s Internet protocol-connected Hopper DVRs. Hulu recently launched on Cablevision Systems set-tops and has similar deals in place to do the same with Armstrong, Atlantic Broadband, Mediacom Communications, Midcontinent Communications and WideOpenWest.