Sony Site to Showcase Web Video Talent

NEW YORK Sony is recasting the video-sharing site Grouper as Crackle, an online talent agency, using the lure of Hollywood fame to attract up-and-coming auteurs from the Web video king YouTube.

Crackle will fund the production of original Web video content. It is banking on finding up-and-coming talent through the lure of entree into the entertainment establishment via Sony film and animation studios and a partnership with the Improv comedy club. Ad-revenue-sharing deals are not in the current mix.

“Most of our content creators want fame instead of fortune right now,” said Josh Feser, co-president of Crackle.

The transformation comes nearly a year after Sony paid $65 million for Grouper, a video-sharing site that began as a venue for users to swap files.

Like other video sites operating in YouTube’s shadow, Crackle is trying to find its way by focusing on niche content. As a way for aspiring entertainers to make money from their work, it will compete with sites like Blip.tv and even YouTube’s still-nascent revenue-sharing arrangement with some content creators.

The small amounts paid in cuts of ad revenue will not satisfy the most talented creators, who are still attracted by the opportunities available in traditional channels like film and TV.

“They want the longer form canvas,” Felser said. “The Internet for the foreseeable future is short-form content.”

Crackle is starting out with about 1,000 pieces of content, such as “Scrambler,” a video music program focused on idie rock. In addition to showing the videos on Crackle.com, Sony has distribution deals in place with social networks Hi5. The channel will also be available on the Sony PSP handheld gaming device.

The ad model for Crackle is still a work in progress. It will open with sister company Sony Electronics sponsoring high-definition viewing. The video service will use pre-roll ads initially, Felser said, while experimenting with the frequency. The focus on high-quality content will help close the gap of advertiser demand for video inventory and the lack of suitable clips, he said.

“The advertisers are going to find their ad next to what a human has reviewed,” he said. “We provide predictability for the content.”