Sony Recasts Crackle

LOS ANGELES Sony Pictures Entertainment is ready to make Crackle pop.

The studio is shaking up its online video hub with new management, headquarters and an infusion of full-length TV shows and movies from the Sony library to complement the increasing slate of short-form originals already rolling out.

Sony has been gradually transforming Crackle, which it acquired in August 2006 when the site was a user-generated content depository known as Grouper, into an online version of a programmed channel.

Eric Berger, who formerly oversaw strictly mobile entertainment at Sony, will extend his oversight to Crackle. He’ll take the reins from Jonathan Shambroom, who was elevated to the top job at Crackle in February.

“What we want to do with Crackle is make it a next-generation TV network,” Berger said.

Previously based in San Francisco, Crackle will move to Culver City, Calif., and be formally folded into Sony’s digital content operations, which include brands Minisode Network and Pix.

Redundancies will mean a few positions will be eliminated, but some employees will make the move south, where Crackle will function as a 20-person team.

In keeping with its vision of Crackle as a cable network without actually being on cable, Sony will begin supplementing the originals with library films including Jerry Maguire and Ghostbusters, as well as TV series including Married…With Children, The Tick and Voltron. Most cable channels are built on a foundation of library content, supplemented with originals that shape brand identity.

But a key ingredient to Crackle that differentiates it from traditional television is a suite of interactive tools including DVD-like content extras and chats with content creators.

Crackle is something of a subtle but fundamental departure for Sony, which has always stayed away from the channel business in favor of remaining a content supplier. But with little of the barriers to entry that come with formal multichannel distribution, more and more content companies are bypassing MSOs and satellite services to go online, as Warner Bros. recently did with a resurrected version of defunct brand The WB.

“We’re controlling our own distribution and building direct consumer relationships and that’s critical for an independent studio,” Berger said.

With a mix of comedy, action and unscripted material, Crackle is being positioned by Sony as a brand that transcends genre, appealing to video enthusiasts, particularly the demographic focus of men 18-25.

In keeping with its channel orientation, Crackle plans to roll out as many as five 13-episode original series each quarter. Each of those four seasons will be anchored by one main attraction beginning in the first quarter, with Angel of Death, an action thriller from comic-book artist Ed Brubaker.

For original content, Crackle is expected to find new talent as well as bank on Sony to bring in more established stars. Crackle has already put TV stars including Brad Garrett and Penn Jillette in programs on the site.

In addition to the destination site, content will also be syndicated to leading portals including YouTube and MySpace. However, not everything on will be available with the content partners, which are expected to drive traffic back to the destination site.