Sony's Crackle to make eye-popping online video a snap

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Hoping to cash in on the online-video fervor that user-generated content has created, Sony Pictures has released Crackle, a redesign of its social-networking forum Grouper. The Sony Pictures Entertainment company is for the first time streaming professional-quality video online and aiming for a content provider that's more video savvy than your average YouTuber.

The renamed site is targeting emerging creatives with such programs as the fame partnerships that give up-and-coming filmmakers and animators the chance to win funding for projects, meet with Hollywood Studios and have mass distribution through www.crackle.com.

"We are about finding and featuring the best content from the best emerging video talents and making the watching experience extremely high quality," said Josh Felser, co-president of Crackle. "It works for attracting the best content. The business model works on an ad-supported model. Advertisers have always been reluctant to associate with the user-generated world because the production values vary, but we are organized around premium and branded channels."

Crackle gives filmmakers on its site access and exposure to the entertainment industry through contests that send winners to meetings with Sony Pictures Animation, Sony Pictures Imageworks, Columbia Pictures, Sony Pictures Television and Improv Comedy Lab. A Crackle Studios development deal and a pitch meeting with Columbia Pictures will be awarded on Shorts, Crackle's Short Film channel. Quarterly contest winners will receive funding from Crackle Studios to develop and produce short-form material for Crackle distribution. Winners will also fly to Los Angeles to pitch their feature-film concepts in person to Columbia creative executives.

Up-and-coming animators will have access to artists from Sony Pictures Imageworks, a visual effects and animation company, and Sony Pictures Animation, a digital animation studio. Winners of the quarterly contest on Wet Paint, Crackle's animation channel, will receive a cash prize and also get to meet with TV execs.

Crackle has secured the exclusive, worldwide distribution rights to Mr. Deity, a comedy from writer/director Brian Dalton. The 10 episodes on the site have received more than 5.7 million views since March. As a result of the viewer response, Crackle has committed to an additional 10 episodes for "Season Two," which will premiere in Moving Targets, Crackle's upcoming sketch variety channel.

However, Felser declined to share details of any initial advertising contracts or campaigns.

The content is also being distributed and syndicated in Sony products such as the PSP and the Vaio laptop.

"The participants will be getting massive exposure through our Web site and through these integrations across Sony Electronics," Felser said.

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