Snap Crackle Pop

19 04 2011

In Free: The Future Of A Radical Price, Chris Anderson (Editor of Wired Magazine) argues that the most effective price is no price at all. While that may be a stretch for many industries, it certainly can be true when it comes to technological services (which cost very little to produce). While some ( e.g., New York Times) have recently installed paywalls to limit unfettered online access, the retail price of other content is nose-diving.

Case in point: Sony’s new Crackle video service lets subscribers watch movies and TV shows for free.

Yeah, you heard me. Free.

At a time when Netflix and Amazon are duking it out in streaming movies, and Hulu is delivering TV shows (ranging from $0 for Amazon Prime customers to $8 a month for Hulu), Crackle is throwing down the gauntlet by just making it available to anyone. Well, anyone with a PC/Mac or an iOS (read: Apple) mobile device.

Over 250 movies are currently available, along with a plethora of old TV shows, including Seinfeld. Set up your queue, and you’re ready to watch from anywhere. Need a Seinfeld fix at work or on the daily commute (I am assuming bus or train here)? Fire up your iPhone app and watch The Puffy Shirt. Just don’t laugh too loudly, or people will begin to wonder why you are so happy.

The beauty of Crackle, though, is that it is not just a slew of episodes and movies thrown together. No, this is curated content (get to know that phrase, because it is huge these days). Everything available is based on the glowing reviews of Sony editors. In other words, these represent their favorites. And you won’t be able to watch every Seinfeld episode, because only 210 are available at a time. In fact, Sony says that future content may very well have a theme to it, to add a little special sauce to the offering.

So how can this all be free? Simple. Advertising. Viewers will have to watch (OK, endure) an ad at the beginning of every download, and then again about every 10 minutes. Sure, this might become annoying for some, but it is the price we pay for free.

As long as you’re happy with the content Sony editors dish out, Crackle is a fabulous way to score some viewing pleasure at a minimum price. Furthermore, the flexibility of starting a movie or episode on one device and finishing it later, elsewhere and on a different device is extremely appealing. Think about starting a movie on the office PC ((don’t tell anyone I suggested this), catching 30 minutes on the train on your iPad or iPhone, and then finishing it at home on your Apple TV.

Chris Anderson was right about free being a radical idea, and I can only foresee more of this to come from major media providers. Yes, the ongoing price to play will be ever more advertising, but if it keeps a few more greenbacks in my billfold, I can live with it.

I just wish Anderson would follow his own advice and figure out how to make his magazine (especially the iPad version) free. Then we would be talking. The Soup Nazi in me would love to look down my nose and send him on his way.

Dr “No Price For You!” Gerlich

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