Why Crackle, Sony’s big digital video play, was sidelined for ‘The Interview’

Opportunity knocked.
Opportunity knocked.
Image: Reuters/Rick Wilking
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A week after The Interview made its VOD debut on December 24th, Sony announced that most of the other VOD holdouts—including all the major cable providers, DirecTV and Sony’s own PlayStation Network—are now also offering the comedy for rental and purchase. At this point, aside from Amazon, every major VOD provider and streaming site is showing the film (and Sony still remains in talks with Netflix).

Everyone, that is, except one major streaming outlet that has been left on the sidelines: Crackle, the Sony-owned streaming site that airs films and TV shows, many of them produced by the company. The site is free, but ad-supported: movies like Backdraft have nine separate breaks for multiple ads.

Yet despite a New York Post report on December 21st that Sony was going to stream The Interview on Crackle, a studio source tells Quartz that Crackle was not considered as part of The Interview’s digital strategy, given that the free site has no mechanism in place for charging consumers the $5.99 rental and $14.99 purchase fee for the film that the other VOD outlets have been offering.

Instead, Sony created a separate in-house site, SeetheInterview.com, which used online payment processor Stripe to coordinate purchases. (Still, the “vast majority” of Interview’s initial $15 million in online purchases came from Google Play and YouTube Movies, which benefited from the lack of iTunes and cable VOD availability.)

In doing so, the studio dropped the ball on taking advantage of a golden opportunity to spotlight Crackle, which has been trying to raise its profile with original series and films (including Joe Dirt 2, a sequel to the 2001 David Spade comedy). Founded in 2007, the service had 16 million monthly uniques in 2012; last January, Eric Berger, Crackle general manager, told reporters that Crackle’s uniques were “up about 50%” in 2013. Crackle said it was unable to provide updated 2014 figures to Quartz. Yet despite those figures, Crackle remains off the radar of many viewers, aside from the buzz around Jerry Seinfeld’s unscripted series, Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee.

Last January, Berger noted to reporters, “we are not afraid to take risks and experiment as well.” If there was ever a time to do both, it was last month.

Even if Crackle wasn’t a feasible outlet to stream the movie, Sony could have boosted Crackle’s profile by giving it some exclusive Interview content in the days leading up to the VOD offering: a deleted scene, behind-the-scenes footage or other clips that would have helped put an end to reactions like these after that New York Post report: “What’s Crackle?

Instead, those people will remain in the dark about the site. As HitFix TV critic Alan Sepinwall tweeted re Sony’s decision to bypass Crackle (and, at the time, PlayStation Network) for streaming The Interview, “if you’re not going to use this as an opportunity to make people aware those networks exist, you may as well give up on them.”

It seems the studio might be doing just that: emails released by the hackers last month reveal that Sony execs recently discussed selling a majority stake in Crackle to raise money.