UPDATED: Sony Pictures Television is spinning its free Crackle streaming network into a joint venture called “Crackle Plus” — which doesn’t own rights to the crackleplus.com domain name. But Chicken Soup for the Soul Entertainment, which is assuming control of Crackle as majority owner, says there’s no issue because there were never plans to launch a Crackle Plus-branded service.
As first reported by Variety, SPT formed the Crackle Plus JV with CSS Entertainment, a deal expected to close in April or May 2019. CSS Entertainment will be the majority owner of the new entity, and the company boasted that the addition of Crackle to its ad-supported VOD roll-up network is expected to more than double overall revenue, which hit $27.8 million in 2018.
In a statement to Variety, CSS Entertainment said, “While Crackle Plus is the name of the joint venture and associated ad network, it was never intended to be a consumer-facing domain name. The ownership of crackleplus.com is a non-issue.”
Currently, the crackleplus.com domain name is registered to a guy in Pakistan, who is asking $10,000 to transfer the rights.
Crackleplus.com was registered by one Muhammad Abdullah in October 2017. Reached via email, Abdullah said he bought the name “to start my own entertainment website.” The site currently consists of a landing page offering to sell the domain name for “10,000 USD” and includes the Sony Crackle logo — indicating that Abdullah is fully aware that Sony has an interest in the name. Abdullah correctly noted that Sony owns a registered trademark on “Crackle” but not “Crackle Plus.” He’s also registered Twitter and Instagram accounts with the “crackleplus” name.
According to Abdullah, Sony tried to negotiate the purchase of crackleplus.com through the DomainAgents broker service. “But I don’t want to sell it at lower price,” he wrote in an email. “That’s why I ended the deal.”
Abdullah said he also has “a couple” of other websites but he declined to identify them. He is listed as an “SEO expert” on the website of ikonic Solution, an Islamabad-based website design and development company.
The Crackle Plus name was initially confusing: The “plus” nomenclature has implied subscription VOD, as with the recently announced Apple TV+, Disney’s current ESPN+ and the forthcoming Disney+ SVOD service. (Also recall that Hulu’s initial SVOD product was called “Hulu Plus.”) CSS Entertainment will continue to run Crackle as a free AVOD service, consolidating operations with its other ad-supported platforms including Popcornflix.
It’s not clear how aggressively CSS Entertainment will invest in original content for the new Crackle Plus. CEO and chairman Bill Rouhana, on a conference call with investors last Friday, suggested most of the content will be licensed. Under the deal with SPT, TV series and movies from the Sony Pictures Entertainment library will be licensed to Crackle Plus. Rights to Crackle’s originals, which have included “The Oath” from executive producer 50 Cent and “SuperMansion,” a stop-motion animated series featuring Bryan Cranston, will be retained by SPT but will be made available for licensing to the JV.
Rouhana said in anticipation of the Crackle deal, CSS Entertainment opted to retain certain rights to two of its completed original series — “Hidden Heroes,” originally slated for CBS, and “Going From Broke,” a financial show about of millennials executive produced by Ashton Kutcher — to be able to premiere them on its own networks. It may also retain AVOD rights to Terry Gilliam’s ‘The Man Who Killed Don Quixote,” for which Screen Vision acquired the North American distribution rights. CSS Entertainment also acquired five-year AVOD rights to exhibit more than 500 films from the FilmRise library on its owned-and-operated networks.
CSS Entertainment expects to run Crackle Plus with a much lower overhead than SPT did. “There was a lot of cost there,” Rouhana told investors on the March 29 call. “We run our businesses differently.”
Rouhana in 2008 acquired Chicken Soup for the Soul LLC from Mark Victor Hansen and Jack Canfield, the creators of the best-selling “Chicken Soup for the Soul” book series. Privately held Chicken Soup for the Soul LLC is the parent company of CSS Entertainment, whose shares are Nasdaq-traded.