Chicken Soup for the Soul Entertainment (CSS Entertainment) — yes, the same company that made those books they read to you at camp — just bought Sony Crackle. At first glance, this seems like little more than two names you haven’t thought about for a while teaming up. But down the line, this could prove just as significant as Apple’s Monday news about its own streaming service this fall.
Crackle is the Myspace of streaming services. I open it every few years just to see if it’s still a thing
— Eric Stone (@caseydog2212) March 28, 2019
Overview of the deal
CSS Entertainment will take over Sony Crackle, the aging TV streaming service that’s been around since 2004, as Variety reported Friday. While Sony is still providing the back-end tech, its catalogue of movies and TV shows will be entirely in CSS Entertainment’s hands.
CSS Entertainment, which currently runs the free streaming services Popcornflix and the faith-based Truli, will combine all of its streaming platforms with Sony Crackle and re-brand as Crackle Plus (joining Apple+, Disney+, and ESPN+ as the most uninspired names in streaming).
Crackle Plus will probably be mediocre
On their own, Popcornflix and Sony Crackle have barely been worth the free download. In our analysis of the best free streaming services, they ranked six and nine out of 11 respectively. Most of Crackle’s movies are available on other, better free streaming sites, and at the time, I called Popcornflix “the place to go if you’re looking for your favorite star’s most obscure movies.”
Separately, they’re just not very good. But together? They probably won’t be very good, either.
That’s because Sony Crackle and Popcornflix share most of the same strengths and weaknesses. In my evaluation, they both fared pretty poorly for almost every genre. The areas where the new service will improve the most are comedy, where Crackle currently has the best library of any free streaming site, and family, which Truli excels in.
If Crackle Plus wants to distinguish itself from the other big players in the free streaming space, it will have to acquire a lot more content, or go all-in on specific genres like Kanopy has with arthouse films.
What this means for the larger streaming space
Let’s be honest. Most consumers haven’t heard of Popcornflix, and Crackle is little more than a nostalgic symbol of the early streaming era. But this small ripple could make big waves down the road.
Here’s what CSS Entertainment CEO Bill Rouhana told Variety on the acquisition: “We look at the AVOD [ad-supported video-on-demand] market as being ripe for innovation … Roughly 50% of the VOD (market) revenue will come from advertising.”
There are dozens of free streaming sites out there, of which most people have never heard. With such a big slice of the pie available — although I can’t confirm how accurate that 50 percent number is — we’ll likely see more of these platforms consolidate. As Rouhana said, “It doesn’t make a lot of sense for there to be hundreds of AVOD networks.”
The acquisition comes just days after Apple announced its long-anticipated foray into streaming with Apple+. Apple hasn’t announced how much that service will cost, but it will be yet another monthly cost in an already-crowded space. Add that to Netflix’s now-routine price hikes, Disney’s upcoming service, and the rising cost of live streaming services like DIRECTV NOW, and it’s not hard to see how free streaming platforms could become more popular.
The Bottom Line
We’re reaching a breaking point, and free streaming services (supported by ads) are poised to cash in. We’ve already seen Amazon test the waters with IMDb Freedive, and Crackle Plus might be the first in a rush of minor players teaming up to compete. You might never watch a thing on Crackle Plus — and it still might change the way you watch TV.