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Sony Re-Brands Online Video Site 'Crackle'

The former Grouper site will become a showcase for high-quality filmmaking talent, says Sony Pictures.

Sony Pictures Entertainment has found a new way for its online video site Grouper to compete with YouTube: Get into a different business.

The company said today that it has re-launched Grouper, acquired last August by Sony for $65 million, under the name Crackle.

Sony sees Crackle not as a video sharing and community site, but as a showcase for emerging filmmaking talent.

"The evolution of online video will bring viewers more professionally produced material," said Sean Carey, senior executive VP at Sony Pictures, in a statement. "Crackle will provide this next wave of creative talent a forum that will give them the exposure and recognition they seek and deserve."

Grouper, like other online video sites, hasn't been able to keep up with the exposure and recognition received by YouTube, which saw its share of U.S. visits increase by 70% between January 2007 and May 2007, according to Internet metric company Hitwise. In May, YouTube had 50% more U.S. visitors than the 64 next most popular video sites combined.

In re-orienting its online video site to appeal to producers of more polished productions, Sony is putting Crackle in the company of Atom Films, Revver, VuMe, and other sites that reward filmmakers with something other than attention. It also is making Crackle more appealing to advertisers wary about being associated with the worst excesses of user-generated video.

Amateur video will still be available, but Crackle aims to encourage pedigreed filmmakers to submit high-quality content in exchange for payments, development deals, meetings with Hollywood executives, and contest awards.

Crackle's payment plan looks tightfisted by Hollywood standards -- contests are cheaper than contracts with a living wage for all involved -- but celebrity salaries shouldn't be expected in a medium with such a fluid business model.

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