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October 02, 2015

Crackle Snaps and Pops

A focus on “rechargers” is charging Sony’s streaming network.

Daniel Frankel
  • The Art of More

  • The Art of More

  • Eric Berger

Nine years after it paid $65 million to acquire the San Francisco start-up Grouper, Sony Pictures Television has achieved its vision of a diverse, multi-platform, streaming video network — i.e., Crackle.

This actualization was on full display on Madison Avenue this past spring, when Crackle made its first upfront presentation, a coming-out packed with the kind of star power that definitely means business.

Crackle showed off its first hour-long scripted drama, The Art of More, starring Dennis Quaid and Kate Bosworth; all 10 episodes will drop November 19 (Crackle releases some of its series all at once, à la Netflix, and others in weekly installments). It also revealed SuperMansion, a stop-motion animated series executive-produced by Bryan Cranston, who also voices one of the superhero characters. It will premiere October 8 with three episodes; subsequent episodes will follow weekly.

These join series that already have traction on the platform, including Jerry Seinfeld’s Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee (season seven will begin weekly release January 7) and Sports Jeopardy! (weekly release starts September 23).

For some insight into Crackle’s new pop, emmy magazine contributor Dan Frankel caught up with Eric Berger, executive vice-president of Sony Pictures Television Digital Networks and general manager of Crackle, which this summer became the first streaming network to share ratings information.

Crackle appears to have a major advantage over other digital companies producing original programming: a big studio that’s up and running. How does that benefit you in terms of production costs as well as access to projects and top talent?

Eric Berger: We’re very lucky to have the support of Sony Pictures Television. All of the programs you see today were greenlit directly to series because we are able to distribute them through the studio model.

We also have access to amazing A-list talent that have strong, long-standing relationships with SPT, like Jerry Seinfeld, Bryan Cranston and David Spade.

Crackle has developed a reputation in the community as a playground for talent. We want to give producers, writers, directors and actors as much creative freedom as possible — bring us your ideas, and we will bring them to life.

As Jerry Seinfeld said at our upfront, “What a man is looking for in a network is the same as in his underwear: a little bit of support and a little bit of freedom.” We provide that and more.

How important are name-brand originals? It seems like the bar — in terms of talent and quality — was raised very quickly.

EB: Very important. We are producing quality original programming with top talent. People like Dennis Quaid, Kate Bosworth, Christian Cooke and Cary Elwes, for instance, are starring in our first one-hour drama, The Art of More, which is currently in production. These very talented artists can create television and films anywhere, but they understand the benefits of working with us and that we can deliver TV-quality content to audiences everywhere.

Who is watching the platform?

EB: The majority of Crackle viewers are young adults in the prime of building their careers. They’re a multicultural, hardworking and aspirational group of men and women who are early tech adopters — meaning they’re more likely to watch on smart TVs, game consoles and streaming boxes like Apple TV and Roku — and therefore they are not reachable on TV alone.

We’ve identified this demo as “rechargers” – they frequently stream movies and TV shows to recharge after a busy day. They enjoy energizing, quality programs that give them a welcome break from their active work and social lives.

As you know, there has been a huge surge in OTT [over-the-top] viewing, and streaming television is now the second consideration in the evening, right after watching live TV — ahead of DVR and VOD.

Streaming is the mainstay of living rooms around the globe; it is now the standard. And as the primary ad-supported streaming network, we want to make high-quality programming accessible to everyone, everywhere — with no subscriptions ever.

Does Crackle have a brand lens? Is there any type of programming you're most interested in producing or acquiring?

EB: To appeal to the rechargers, we look for shows that expose audiences to worlds they haven’t seen before, series that take you to unexpected places. For example, The Art of More shows us the underbelly of the New York auction world — it exposes what’s beneath the glossy veneer and the extent our characters will go to achieve their goals when unchecked by morality. 

What is the mix of acquisitions versus original productions?

EB: Our slate includes a selection of originals — some of which are acquired and others that we produce — across a wide variety of genres, including drama, action, sports animation and comedy. In addition, we license movies and series from a variety of studios that complement our original programming and allow us to give our audience a variety of curated content on a monthly basis.
 

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