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The audience cackles as Sony launches Crackle

It's just Grouper regrouped

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Comment You may have heard that Sony has renamed the Grouper user generated website that it bought a while back for some $65m, as Crackle, and begun trying to drag its content into the professional zone by putting up minor amounts of content that Sony owns to make the professional level of the site stronger than, say, YouTube.

We knew when Sony bought the site that it put forward the idea that Grouper might benefit from Sony content, but it was never at the time made clear if the site would sell film content, advertise it, offer it as an advertising driven free stream, or use just 30 second clips.

Now that it has been made clear it has become what looks like a half thought out series of TV channels, made up of short chunks of comedy, pre-digested UGC, competitions, and lists of somebody else's favorites. It has competitions for animators, stand-up, and short films, with a chance to pitch the outcomes to Sony studios.

There might be the seed of a very good idea in there. At Faultline we have said that in the future studios will not spend huge amounts of money to bring untried series to TV broadcasting, but instead will rely on the internet proving the popularity of an idea first. But with the production values of this website, that doesn't seem likely to happen.

The entire approach shows how far Sony has it wrong with the front page Mr Deity, a group of short videos designed to demonstrate how crazy the idea of god is. That's really going to endear the site to the freshly Christian fundamentalist America.

But it's worse than that. Crackle has a design that must have cost all of $500, it uses outmoded typefaces, and is yet another attempt by a major content business to re-design something that is slightly cooler than YouTube, but just as chaotic.

The truth is that Crackle is Grouper by another name, run the by Grouper people with a view to harnessing the Sony content they think is cool. For $65m my grandma could have built a more engaging site and this is going to drive the traditional Grouper fans away, wrecking the investment and rapidly disillusioning an audience of what was 25 million monthly unique users.

None of that is much news. What is disastrous is the inability of Sony as an organisation to launch anything effective which harnesses its content, which includes around 8,000 films that have each made headlines on the theatrical release circuit over the last 40 years or so.

The films don't make it into the site. There is a small amount of advertising, no video advertising, and by renaming it Sony has probably done more harm to the purchase than either Google or Fox have done to YouTube and MySpace.

The release describes Crackle as a unique editorial strategy, using the Improv Comedy franchise, Sony Pictures Animation, Sony Pictures Imageworks, Columbia Pictures, Sony Pictures Television, Comedy Lab content and bills it as a launch pad for the best emerging video talent. Because the system will actually fund, promote, and syndicate new video creators, it is at least trying to create an underclass of professionals that make videos for UGC revenue share rather than for inflated Hollywood salaries.

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