Web Video Taps Into Star Power

Sony's Crackle, Others, Turn to Celebrities to Raise Profile

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Internet upstarts are learning an old television trick: Celebrity sells.

When Sony-owned brings back Web sitcom "Mr. Deity" in the next few months, the show likely will feature some familiar faces. Like other online video sites, Crackle is trying to salt its shows with stars.

When Crackle rolled out its new fall lineup last month, the schedule was anchored by "Dating Brad Garrett," starring and produced by the TV actor.

"There is so much video on the Web that to break through the clutter you do need a hook, and an obvious hook is a known brand and celebrity," said Sean Carey, senior executive VP of Sony Pictures Television.

The pressure to snag a name to attach to an Internet project is felt far and wide in the Web video world. inked a deal with Electric Farm Entertainment to carry the current Web series "Gemini Division" in part because the producers had booked actress Rosario Dawson in the lead. The producers of that show have now lined up actor Jon Heder for their next Web project, "Woke Up Dead."

Joss Whedon's "Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog" rocketed to success in part on the star power of Neil Patrick Harris. The comedy site has flourished thanks to an uber-popular Will Ferrell viral video and other hits featuring celebrities including actor James Franco and Paris Hilton.

The rush to snag a star is intensifying, because a celebrity attachment can help a Web producer land a distribution deal and ad dollars. Forrester Research expects online video ad spending to hit $989 million this year, up from $471 million last year.

But stars don't guarantee online views, said Brent Friedman, a partner in Electric Farm Entertainment and executive producer of the Web series "Gemini Division."

"A known entity obviously provides some level of comfort to sponsors, but if the project is ultimately not successful, then the producer's long-term relationship with the sponsor will be in jeopardy," he said.
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