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Sony snaps Grouper shut, gives Crackle a pop

Drops video sharing biz model, goes in search of 'emerging talent'

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Sony Pictures is challenging YouTube's dominance of the user-generated content market by turning its online acquisition Grouper into a mini studio.

From today Grouper, which was acquired by Sony Pictures for $65m last August, will now be known as Crackle.

And, in a marked change to its original video sharing business model, the website's main function will be to pull in the best new online video talent.

Crackle is offering up what it described as a "streaming entertainment network" that will see wannabe filmmakers go head-to-head in contests in the hope of bagging development and distribution deals with Sony.

The site will also carry branded channels where user generated content in different genres will be uploaded and judged by a panel of "editors", entertainment partners, and other users.

Winners will get the chance to collaborate with Sony execs and creators before seeing their work distributed to a wider audience via the likes of MySpace, Facebook, and AOL, as well as on the TV screen via Sony platforms.

It said other initiatives would include lining up pitch meetings with Columbia Pictures for short filmmakers, and stand-up new comers could get the chance to perform at Improv comedy clubs.

Crackle founder and co-president Josh Felsher said: "We are very focused on liberating the next generation creator-writer from YouTube; we offer funding, syndication, promotion and a pathway to Hollywood despite cynicism."

Grouper had previously served as a peer-to-peer network offering a web-based video sharing service.

Although the new business model adopted by Crackle isn't exactly a new one - Google Video, for example, already offers similar cash incentives - Felsher said the firm hopes the Sony brand will help it push its service to the front of the pack. ®

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