Comedians in Cars Redefines Sony’s Crackle

Show sees streams double versus last year

Crackle has always had something of an enigma. Founded as Grouper, a YouTube wannabe from the early 2000s, the site was acquired and rebranded as back in 2006. Since then, the programming has bounced between originals featuring Married … With Children’s David Faustino to old episodes of Party of Five to guy movies like Pineapple Express.

Then, last year, via a unique relationship through Jerry Seinfeld, Crackle saw its profile soar with Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee. Adweek caught up with Eric Berger, exec vp of digital networks at Sony Pictures Television, and gm of Crackle, to talk about season two of the show.

Has Crackle been in need of a defining hit, or a show that helps provide the site with an identity?

Yes, because we have definitely evolved a lot. We were very much about short form, typical Web series, inexpensive content. Years ago we were about user-generated content and indie stuff. In the last two years, we’ve really pivoted. We think of this as one of our networks we run worldwide. And we think this is how you build a network for a next generation. We’re building up long-form, premium content, and we’ve got hundreds of full length movies and TV shows. As we think about originals they have to sit side by side with these movies and TV shows. So we’re  evolving to long form. You see that with chosen, which stars Milo Ventimiglia, which is coming back for a second season, and a sequel to the David Spade movie Joe Dirt.

But Comedians really brought a lot of new attention and viewers, right?

It’s absolutely a signature program. Jerry Seinfeld could have gone anywhere to do something, and Crackle was a great home for him. We’re not just about being a big, aggregated service. Crackle is very programmed. We compare what we are doing with AMC, FX.

You’ve been doing a lot of promotion too, like a traditional network.

The first time around, all we did was post one sentence on the Seinfeld Facebook page. We said, check it out. It’s just exploded. This time, Jerry’s been out there making the rounds. And we’ve done twice as many streams as we did last year at this point. We did 2.5 million streams in two weeks. The first episode has done triple the numbers from last year. The episode with Sarah Silverman.

The audience is really diversifying too. We’re on 20 different applications and platforms. We’ve found that 60 percent of the show’s audience is online. The rest is on TV and connected devices. That’s really how we build the service.

What do you attribute that to?

Well, this is frictionless for users. The content travels, and it’s free on all platforms.

Beside Comedians, one really interesting thing about your recent NewFront is that you are bringing back the show The Bannen Way, which seemed to pop for you, but hasn’t aired a new episode since 2010.

That was one that was developed with an old model. We did a handful of 10-minute episodes that rolled up into a 90-minute movie. It sold well around world, on TV and on DVD. It went through a [typical windowing] cycle that went around the world. Our TV group even looked at it, asking, "Does it make sense for a linear series? This is making a lot of money for us."

Are you still going to distribute it globally? It seems like this is the model that companies like Vuguru have embraced—using TV and DVD sales abroad to fund Web shows.

We think we’ve cracked this to some degree. The slate makes a lot s sense now for where we are. We’re doing 10 more episodes of The Bannen Way, of Chosen as well. We’re doing full-length movies. We think there are plenty of Web video dollars [to be had]. But we’re looking at everything. The same group that sells House of Cards sells our stuff to distributors. All of our stuff is in house. As a company we’re building IP, and we’re also creating other businesses. The ad dollars aren’t as big as in other industries. That’s everything though. TV shows don't make enough money just on TV. Look at syndication of Seinfeld reruns. That’s not a slam against Web video.

Are you seeing a post-NewFront market take shape?

We really are. It did jumpstart the industry and legitimized some of the buying. It forced a lot of companies like ours to put our best foot forward. We built a new sales team dedicated to Crackle last November, with execs in Chicago, L.A., Detroit, etc. And there’s been nothing but incredible upside from the NewFronts. One thing that’s helped us is that these shows are going to get made. They are not contingent on an advertiser signing on. We’re not waiting. That was a criticism last year, that stuff didn’t get made.

What’s next with Cars?

Jerry has said he wants to do 24 more. So we’ll release a third season at some time. We’d love to just keep doing more with him. We’re looking for other shows all the time—more comedy. It does really well.