Crackle Partners With Comcast as It Heads Into Its Second Upfront

Cable provider will carry the streaming service's content

Crackle has spent the past year trying to position itself as a mainstream TV network, even going so far as breaking away from the digital-centric NewFronts. And as the Sony-owned ad-supported streaming network heads into its second upfront this week, it has made a very TV-like move.

The streaming service, which is home to series like Jerry Seinfeld's Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee and the Dennis Quaid drama The Art of More, has cut its first distribution deal with a cable provider. Beginning Wednesday—though some content will be available today—Crackle's original content will be available to Comcast's 22 million Xfinity subscribers, on set-top boxes, on-demand platforms and mobile.

"It really bridges the gap between the linear world and the on demand and OTT world," Crackle's general manager and evp Eric Berger told Adweek. "It's very indicative of where consumer behavior is." Though the streaming network is on just about every OTT platform including Xbox, Kindle Fire, Roku and smart TVs, Berger notes that many viewers still watch the old-fashioned way.

"There are still a lot of customers that are accessing their content off of the set top box," Berger said. "You want to be ubiquitous, particularly when you're ad-supported."  Berger noted that Comcast will position Crackle with other TV networks like TNT, Bravo and FX, instead of the digital section. "Although our roots are digital, we're not going to be placed in the web section," he said. "This is positioned as a TV network."

Crackle's launch on Comcast is tied to the cable provider's annual Watchathon Week, where the cable provider makes full seasons of some 215 shows across more than 40 channels available to subscribers for one week. While the official launch of Crackle on Comcast will be Wednesday, the same day Crackle holds its upfront, select shows such as Comedians in Cars, The Art of More, Extraction, Chosen and the movie Joe Dirt 2: Beautiful Loser will be available today.

"We are continually expanding our on demand content offering and Crackle's growing portfolio of high-quality original series is a unique and valuable addition to our Xfinity On Demand platform," said Franz Kurath, vp, content acquisition, Comcast Cable. Financial terms were not released.

Crackle content on Comcast will be restricted to original series, but with no lag time. "We're not looking at this as a later window," said Berger.

The move follows another premium streaming network, Hulu, which is now available on Cablevision set-top boxes with a paid Hulu subscription. Berger hopes the Comcast deal is the first of many for Crackle.

Because it sells advertising, unlike most streaming networks, Crackle actually shares viewership data, which also furthers Berger's point that Crackle is more like a TV network than a YouTube player. But airing on Comcast provides a challenge in figuring out how to measure who's watching on all these different platforms.

"We're working with Nielsen to get the best and clearest cumulative picture that we can," explained Berger. "We'll paint one picture for [our advertisers]."

Berger has no reservations about leaving the NewFronts umbrella and going solo, arguing that it changed how advertisers viewed the streaming network in the marketplace. "There was a little bit of a risk in what we did last year," he admitted, adding, "The reaction of the market to us talking about product and product features at the upfront was very positive. We're going to continue that."