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It’s Not TV, It’s Not OTT—It’s Crackle

The rise of streaming services has given viewers more options than ever before and changed how shows are made and viewed. Crackle, Sony’s streaming network, doesn’t get the same amount of attention as Netflix, Hulu and Amazon, but it is seeking the same standing as the major online video players, in part by standing apart from them.

According to the latest Nielsen audience report, 40% of homes subscribe to at least one streaming service, while 13% have at least two. However, there is one problem with that, at least according to Crackle executives.

“As many of these consumers migrate to digital networks, they are adopting a subscription model with no advertising,” said Eric Berger, Crackle GM and executive VP of digital networks for Sony Pictures Television.

Last week, Crackle unchained itself from the Digital Content NewFronts—the two-week marathon where web video outlets make their pitch to digital advertisers. In its first official upfront presentation at New York’s Hudson Theatre on April 14, Crackle set its sights squarely on TV advertisers. Execs touted their ability to boost marketers’ traditional TV ads with Crackle’s young, digitally savvy audience, creating more reach and efficiency.

“This year we moved out of the digital advertising presentations because we’re offering the TV buying community a proposition that aligns with [their] interests,” continued Berger, who argued his OTT network offers the “best of both worlds” between linear television and streaming video.

An Over-the-Top Television Network

Crackle started out as a pioneering video-sharing site called Grouper, founded in 2004, before YouTube even existed. Later bought and renamed by Sony, it morphed into a showcase for the studio’s extensive library of film and TV titles. Original content followed much later. Its valuation and programming war chest are a fraction of their larger rivals’, but its model has emerged as an intriguing counterpoint.

Unlike Netflix, Hulu and Amazon, which go out of their way to tell viewers how much they are not like traditional TV, Crackle is now acting very much like a TV network. That’s on purpose.

A recent study of the streaming population by Crackle and Magid & Associates found that 62% prefer connected TV’s as their top viewing choice, which also happens to be the fastest-growing platform for video advertising. To that end, Crackle will launch a new feature called “Always On” that physically combines a linear TV schedule with an on-demand model.

As soon as a viewer launches the new Crackle, a scheduled program will immediately begin playing. Consumers can browse for something else in the newly created channel guide while continuing to watch what’s currently playing. It will debut first on Roku in May before hitting other platforms over the summer.

Jerry Seinfeld was the first major name to team with Crackle; his Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee debuts its sixth season June 4 with future late-night hosts Stephen Colbert and Trevor Noah and Seinfeld’s former costar Julia Louis-Dreyfus. “If I was ever going to do something else, I wanted to be part of inventing a new experience for viewers,” Seinfeld said during the upfront presentation.

Now that Crackle is targeting TV money, it is looking to develop more premium, higher-quality programming, something it hasn’t had in abundance during its first few years.

The streaming net ordered its first hour-long scripted drama, the 10-episode The Art of More, with Dennis Quaid and Kate Bosworth attached to star. The drama focuses on the underbelly and surprisingly cutthroat world of premium auction houses. Crackle’s second new series is the stop-motion animated comedy SuperMansion from Seth Green and his Stoopid Buddy Stoodios, producers of Adult Swim’s Robot Chicken. The animated series stars Bryan Cranston as an aging superhero who leads a group of has-been heroes struggling to stay relevant.

“It’s an amazing time for television because the exchange has almost changed entirely between show creators and the audience,” said Green. “The access to the audience is greater than it’s ever been before.”

Crackle is developing another scripted drama, Capo, which centers on a former mobster who gets released from prison. Capo is being produced by Relativity Television and Hollywood Gang Productions.

Crackle is also looking to break into movies, in part by leveraging the Sony library. As previously announced, the streaming service will debut its sequel to David Spade comedy Joe Dirt on July 16 and is also working on a sequel to one of its own movies, Dead Rising:Watchtower.