Sony Unveils Crackle.com

The Website Formerly Known as Grouper

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- If Crackle.com, a new video-sharing site that launched Monday, looks familiar, that's because you might know it under another name. It's the new nom de web for Grouper, the four-year-old site acquired by Sony for $65 million last August, and one that quickly got lost in the shuffle of content hubs with more concrete business models than YouTube.
Crackle wants to build the careers of content creators from day one, with its suite of Sony properties pitching in to help offer aspiring Spielbergs and Shyamalans their chance at a big break.
Crackle wants to build the careers of content creators from day one, with its suite of Sony properties pitching in to help offer aspiring Spielbergs and Shyamalans their chance at a big break.

Jonathan Shambroom, the company's VP-products and marketing, said the old name just wasn't cutting it anymore when it came to reflecting the direction the Grouper executives wanted to take the site.

'Tomorrow's stars today'
"It's still a little bit out-of-date for us," Mr. Shambroom said of the previous moniker. "Crackle represented a dynamic, exciting feel of being a real entertainment platform -- we're representing tomorrow's stars today."

But unlike YouTube's "post-often-and-hope-you-get –discovered" ethos, as practiced by LonelyGirl or the Ask a Ninja guys, Crackle wants to build the careers of content creators from day one, with its suite of Sony properties pitching in to help offer aspiring Spielbergs and Shyamalans their chance at a big break.

Users can currently upload content onto more than 20 different channels, including Wet Paint (for animators), High Wire (for stand-up comedians) and Firehouse, a user-generated channel inspired by FX's "Rescue Me." Various contests are integrated into each one.

Winners of a quarterly contest on Wet Paint, for example, will have the opportunity to get their animated shorts distributed on the big screen through Sony Pictures Entertainment. Makers of live-action shorts will get a similar opportunity through the Shorts Channel, with distribution from Sony's Columbia Pictures at stake.

Sponsored channels
Firehouse is also the first of the Crackle channels to come branded with a sponsor, an approach that Amy Carney, Sony's head of digital sales, hopes to eventually apply to all the site's networks. "We've organized the content so that if a brand has an affinity for music -- and not just broadly music, but indie rock, for example -- if they have an aspirational message to the brand, there's the same aspect for each channel."

Additionally, Ms. Carney and Mr. Shambroom are open to all kinds of ad models, including a new approach to the pre-roll which functions similar to the way ads run on TV. "We will be serving pre-rolls and interstitials at some tolerable interval every couple videos," Mr. Shambroom said. "We know what our own tolerance is for advertising, and that helps us figure out how we integrate ads through the site in a way that's most attractive to advertisers and to users."

Establishing a more unique identity to separate itself from the Revvers and Brightcoves of the world -- both from a content and an ad-model standpoint -- will be the goal for Crackle going forward. Having an all-Flash video player is just the beginning, Mr. Shamboom said.

"We're leading the industry in terms of players and functionality and quality," he said. "But when content creators hear they have the opportunity to reach people in their living room, on the web, it's highly attractive. It goes a lot beyond sharing fractions of cents through pages for a rev-share deal."
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