Why Crackle Wants You (and the Industry) to See It as a Mainstream TV Network

It will be the first streaming service to present at the Upfronts

Xbox, Kindle Fire, Roku, Smart TV—no matter what device you have, you can find Crackle on it. Each month, 18 million users in the U.S. access the Sony-owned, advertiser-supported streaming network to watch a selection of movies and TV shows, as well as a growing number of original series, including Jerry Seinfeld's Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee.

But Crackle still has a bit of an identity crisis as it looks to make a name for itself among the likes of Netflix and Amazon. After an erroneous New York Post report in December indicated that Sony—at the time under siege from hackers and seeking alternative distribution for its controversial comedy The Interview—would be releasing the film for free on Crackle, most people said, "What's Crackle?" (In the end, Crackle landed rights to the film next year in the first ad-supported window.)

Crackle's general manager and evp Eric Berger, who's also general manager of digital for Sony Pictures Television, is trying to change that. He's taking big swings like commissioning Joe Dirt 2: Beautiful Loser—the first digital sequel to a movie—and pushing original series like the drama Cleaners, starring David Arquette and Gina Gershon, and the thriller Chosen, starring Chad Michael Murray and Rose McGowan.

And in his loudest statement yet, he's moved Crackle out of the NewFronts, held primarily for digital enterprises, and into the upfronts, generally reserved for the major TV networks. On April 14, Crackle will become the first streaming network to present at the upfronts. On the eve of Crackle's first upfront, Berger talked about his bold move, what really happened with The Interview and meeting the challenge of raising Crackle's profile.

Adweek: What prompted Crackle to move from the NewFronts to the upfronts this year?

Eric Berger: We decided to move from the NewFronts to the upfronts this year because we want to send the message that we are a premium streaming TV network with a core focus on creating quality, longform original programming and delivering it over the top on every platform.

When Sony was trying to figure out its digital strategy for releasing The Interview last December, were you hoping Crackle would be in the mix?

There were a lot of conversations internally that are different than what people were talking about in the marketplace. And what you see playing out is Sony's strategy of taking it through traditional windows. So, theatrical to EST [early electronic sell-through] and VOD, and next logically would be subscription video on demand, and then you come down into ad-supported video on demand, where Crackle is. Crackle wasn't going to change its business model to become something else for one movie. We ended up with The Interview within the appropriate window.

Community is a Sony-owned show that was looking for a home after NBC canceled it. Was that a show you had pursued before it went to Yahoo Screen?

It's a great show. It didn't fit in our slate at the time. Everything that we've done on the scripted series side to date has not been comedy. They've all been action, drama and thrillers. Features are different—with Joe Dirt, obviously, but the other features are action, horror and zombie type of stuff that fares really well for us. 

A lot of streaming services are finding that a way to make a bigger splash is rescue a beloved-but-canceled show like Netflix did with Arrested Development. Community aside, is that a strategy you're open to?

I would never say no. So we're going to look at a lot of different things that we think fit with our audience. Like a lot of these guys, we look at the data of what people are looking at and viewing on our service in the U.S. and in other territories. It's got to feel right. In the case of Joe Dirt, we had a lot of data to show that when we put this movie onto the service, it overindexed a lot of other things in the category and that we felt very confident that when you make a new original that it was going to perform very well from a consumer point of view and an advertiser point of view. So using that data steers into those creative decisions.

You are one of the few streaming services to be available on every single platform: Apple TV, Xbox, Roku…