Crackle Insists It Can Thrive Even After Losing Jerry Seinfeld and Its Signature Show

GM says there's more than just Comedians in Cars

Tuesday seemed to be a bleak day for Crackle, as Jerry Seinfeld—creator and host of the streaming service's signature series, Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee—announced that he's moving his show to Netflix after signing a deal with the streaming rival. Seinfeld will produce Comedians in Cars for Netflix (and move all nine prior seasons of the show there as well) and film two new stand-up comedy specials for the streaming service as part of the $100 million agreement.

Crackle faces a future without its most well-known series—in which Seinfeld chats and drives around with his favorite comedians—and online speculation that the streamer might not be able to continue without it. Crackle general manager Eric Berger allayed those fears in his first comments since the Netflix deal was announced. He told Adweek that Crackle will continue to survive and thrive without the show.

"Although we are incredibly grateful for our time working with Jerry and proud of the Emmy nominations the show has garnered, we have built up a slate of original series with top talent that we are incredibly proud of," Berger told Adweek, referring to The Art of More (starring Dennis Quaid), StartUp (starring Martin Freeman), SuperMansion (executive produced by and starring Bryan Cranston) and Snatch (the drama, which stars Rupert Grint and is based on the 2000 Guy Ritchie film, debuts March 16). "We have a development slate that we feel can rival any ad-supported network."

Berger echoed those comments during a lengthy interview with Adweek just a few days before the Netflix news was announced. When asked at the time about the possibility of Seinfeld taking Comedians in Cars elsewhere, Berger said, "We love the show, and it has been a signature for Crackle, but I think the great part is, it's a portfolio now. It's not like a few years ago, where we didn't have that portfolio of all the slate of dramas and the comedies that we have. We're working with a lot of big talent show that we never did before. And we view all of that in a big portfolio."

Crackle, which has an average monthly U.S. audience of 18 million, said that while Comedians in Cars had long been the top performing title on the site, it was surpassed by StartUp, which premiered in September. And the service's original film Mad Families, which stars Charlie Sheen and premiered last week, is also outperforming the current season of Comedians. So while Seinfeld's show remains Crackle's best-known title, it's no longer its most popular one.

Here's the rest of Adweek's conversation with Berger, who laid out Crackle's vision for 2017—one that no longer includes Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee:

The streaming world has changed so much in the past year. What is Crackle doing to carve out its own niche?
The first thing is, we're really focused on our consumer and our platforms. We have more data and direct contact with customers than ever before, and game consoles are a big piece of that. So really understanding that our market is about mature millennials who are gamers and stream to relax, and use other connected TV [devices] in the living room as well. We are making sure that our content really aligns with that audience more than ever before. The second thing is, as one of the only services that's focused purely on advertising, we want to make sure that we have the best advertising experience possible, so that consumers continue to use the service when there are plenty of other choice that are not ad supported in the marketplace.

How are you doing that?
We already had about half the ad load of TV across our products on the service already. For our dramas, we started doing something that we announced at our upfront last year, which is called BreakFree. There's only one ad at every break, that's it. And with that is a piece of [branded] content that we custom create, that's a little bit of a show in a show. That enhances the viewing experience for the consumer. Real short, and then the ad, and then back to the programming. Very limited interruption. When we've been testing this with Nielsen Media Labs, we've had seven times greater brand recall than a normal ad experience, and really positive reaction to the overall experience. [Brands that have signed on for the Crackle-produced branded content spots as part of BreakFree include Cadillac, Verizon, Microsoft, Arby's, Infiniti and Sprint.]

Are you looking to expand those branded content offerings this year?
Yes. We're really happy with BreakFree. And more importantly, the consumers are really happy with BreakFree, which is just such a win for advertisers, and for the whole ad model. And the Nielsen Media Lab data proves that out. So we want to do more of that, for sure.

What is your audience looking for in a scripted series, and how does your upcoming series Snatch help satisfy that?
I mentioned that we're getting focused on that game console audience in particular, and a lot of these people, they game and stream video to recharge. And that's what they're looking for. They're not looking for slow, drawn-out dramas or complicated things where they need to go to another app to understand what's going on. They want to relax. And relax doesn't necessarily mean quiet, it means energy: You play a game to get energized and pumped up, and then go back out into your busy, active life, and the same is true for video. So whether it's a high-energy comedy like SuperMansion, or Snatch, which is constantly moving—there's crime elements with action and comedy mixed in that moves at a very fast pace—that really connects with the audience.

You've moved to the binge model for many of your shows and a weekly release for your comedies. What's the thinking behind that?
For our dramas, we really believe in the binge model. So we release all episodes at once, because they're serial in nature, and once somebody gets in for serial, they want it on their terms. For a lot of our comedies, whether it's Comedians in Cars or now SuperMansion, we think the weekly cadence works well, because you can dip in and dip out whenever you want. And after the period where it runs out, it's all going to be on demand anyway, and you can binge at your leisure at that point in time.

What are the biggest ways that the streaming habits of Crackle users have changed in the past year or two?
I think the shift from desktop—PCs and Macs—to the living room on connected TVs and game consoles has been dramatic. It's really long-form and watching longer: rolling from episode to episode through binge or movie to movie.

Hulu says that 70 percent of its viewing now occurs via a connected TV device.
Yeah, we would say about the same.

So mobile isn't as big for Crackle?
Mobile is a gateway, a remote control and fills in the blanks. For some people, it might be the main viewing device, but people will migrate to the largest screen they have access to, particularly for long-form content.

What triggers a series renewal for you?
People always want it to be the equivalent of ratings, or how many streams did you get, but for us, it is more than that. First of all, we like to know, how many new people does it bring into Crackle versus how much of audience comes from existing customers? Because we want it to be an acquisition tool for us, as well as to satisfy our existing customers. The second thing we look at is, how many complete the show? So what is the engagement rate episode to episode. And then, how many go on to watch other content on Crackle? Did they come in and watch this and leave, or is this serving as a gateway into other content on the platform? It's that kind of breadth of the portfolio that we look at in the decision making.