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Sony’s Crackle Unveils Virtual-Reality Content and Ad Push, Renews ‘Comedian in Cars,’ ‘Art of More,’ ‘SuperMansion’

Crackle, the free, ad-supported Internet TV service from Sony Pictures Television, announced that it will launch a virtual-reality theater experience and will offer sponsorship opportunities in VR to advertisers.

The new VR initiative, unveiled at Crackle’s 2016 upfront presentation in New York along with a slate of new and returning series, “will be designed with the advertiser in mind,” Eric Berger, exec VP of digital networks for Sony Pictures Television and Crackle G.M.

Crackle will produce extra content from its current shows for VR; the first will be a special from animated superhero comedy “SuperMansion” from exec producer Bryan Cranston and Stoopid Buddy Stoodios, which has been renewed for a second season. The network also will create original virtual-reality content with sponsorship opportunities. The VR content will be viewable on PlayStation VR, Samsung Gear VR, Google Cardboard and smartphones.

“If you can give people an immersive experience, they will give you their attention,” Berger said.

Crackle’s “VR theatre” will let viewers stream the service’s entire content library – including movies and original programs – in an immersive viewing environment. The network will let advertisers “skin” the VR experience with logos and ads as well as integrate their own 360-degree commercials.

The first sponsor to take advantage of Crackle’s new VR offering is LG Electronics, which will promote its suite of products for capturing 360-degree video with behind-the-scenes footage from Crackle’s forthcoming original drama “StartUp” starring Martin Freeman. “StartUp,” set for a third quarter premiere, explores what happens when a brilliant but controversial tech idea gets incubated on the wrong side of the tracks.

Crackle also announced that “The Art of More,” a drama about the art-auction world starring Dennis Quaid, Kate Bosworth, Christian Cooke and Cary Elwes, will return for a second run. “Art of More” season 2 begins production in Montreal May 2; the sophomore season of “SuperMansion” is slated to hit Crackle in early 2017.

In addition, Jerry Seinfeld’s “Comedian in Cars Getting Coffee” — which has been Crackle’s most popular show — will come back for an eighth season, premiering June 15. Guests set to appear with Seinfeld include Margaret Cho, “Saturday Night Live” creator Lorne Michaels, Jim Gaffigan, “Last Week Tonight” host John Oliver, actor JB Smoove and writer-producer Judd Apatow.

“When we were told… that we sold our animated series to Snapple, I thought, ‘That’s odd, it’s a refreshing beverage but is it a platform?’” Cranston cracked when he appeared on stage.

In its only new series announcement, Crackle said it has ordered a 10-episode series based on Guy Ritchie’s 2000 heist movie “Snatch” (see story).

The network also cut a deal with NBC Sports Group to air game show “Sports Jeopardy!” hosted by Dan Patrick on NBCSN following the network’s nightly coverage of the Summer Olympic Games starting Aug. 6. The multiyear agreement covers more than 100 existing episodes of “Sports Jeopardy!” NBC Sports Live Extra, NBC Sports Group’s live streaming product, will also stream episodes that are televised on NBCSN.

Crackle announced a June 20 premiere date for “Dead Rising: Endgame,” based on the popular “Dead Rising” video game franchise by Capcom. The movie, produced with Legendary Digital Media, is the sequel to Crackle’s original feature film “Dead Rising: Watchtower.”

Crackle execs touted the service as delivering greater reach than many cable TV programs, with 98% ad-completion rates across all screens. Crackle viewers were seven times more likely to recall ads than on TV, according to recent Nielsen study. Berger said that’s because it includes less than half the ad load of linear TV.

“People are doing everything they can to not watch the ads (on TV),” Berger said. Crackle “is a sustainable advertising environment that is a win for the advertiser, the network and more important, the viewer.”

Berger also called out Crackle’s deal with Comcast to deliver its content to the cable operator’s 22 million video customers. Comcast is now offering Crackle content on Xfinity On Demand and on its apps and website.

To further draw users into Crackle programming, the service will launch seven new “multiplex channels” — for comedy, action, drama, thriller, sports, fandom and anime —with Crackle’s original content to automatically start playing after a user selects a channel in linear-TV fashion.

And Crackle announced a new “break-free advertising” sponsorship model. Whereas about 300 ads typically are served over the course of a linear TV series, a Crackle 10-episode original will include only five ads per episode. The same five advertisers will have a spot in each of the 10 episodes, and will be able to packages those with a story arc of unique content threaded across all 10 episodes. Car brand Infinit has signed on as the first “break-free” sponsor with the second season of “The Art of More.”

Crackle held the upfront presentation for ad execs at New York City Center in midtown Manhattan. At the end of the event, attendees were handed a Google Cardboard VR viewer, which works with smartphones, to try out the new virtual-reality experience.

The network released a trailer for “StartUp,” which along with Freeman stars Adam Brody, Edi Gathegi and Otmara Marrero:

Pictured above (from left): Bryan Cranston, Crackle G.M. Eric Berger, Kate Bosworth Dennis Quaid

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