Sony (s SNE) online video venture Crackle is rolling out a new, free, ad-supported movie service to a connected TV or Blu-ray player near you. There’s just one catch: that TV or Blu-ray player will probably have to be made by Sony.
While online video providers like Netflix (s NFLX) and Hulu Plus are making movies available on a subscription basis and video-on-demand storefronts like Vudu, (s WMT) Amazon (s AMZN) and iTunes (s AAPL) rent or sell digital copies, Crackle has decided to make a small library of movies and TV shows available for free on connected devices. Movies like The Da Vinci Code and Ghostbusters will now be viewable through Sony Blu-ray players, Bravia TV sets and Google TV-enabled devices.
There will be approximately 200 film titles available for viewing at any given time, a source close to Crackle told us. According to the press release, new movies will be refreshed frequently, with approximately 20 new titles per month being made available through the service. Film titles will include a pre-roll, as well as ad breaks every 10 minutes or so.
The availability of free, full-length, feature films — without having to pay for them — is just one perk Sony can offer consumers since it owns both production and distribution capabilities, as well as a consumer electronics platform for viewing IP-delivered films. Our source said one reason why Crackle can make the movies available in an ad-supported format is that they are, for the most part, from Sony Pictures Entertainment or other studios — like Columbia Pictures or TriStar Pictures — that are owned by Sony. In essence, the ad-supported service will allow Sony to pull in some incremental revenue from film assets it owns that aren’t being monetized on other digital platforms.
The one exception to the Sony-heavy hardware lineup is Roku, which will also feature the Crackle app. In addition to Crackle, Roku has apps for streaming video from most major online movie and TV show providers, including Netflix, Hulu Plus and Amazon Video on Demand. But Crackle is one of Roku’s most popular apps, ranking in the top five apps downloaded on the set-top box.