Now playing on an Android phone in a hand near you: Sony's Crackle service for streaming movies and television shows.
Crackle for Android, which debuted Wednesday on Google's Android Market, gives viewers access to hundreds of titles. The free version lets viewers watch condensed snippets of TV episodes. A premium version costing $4.99 a month gives viewers access to a bigger roster of titles from Columbia Pictures, Tri-Star, Screen Gems and, of course, Sony Pictures Classics.
Sony claims to be the first to offer an app that can stream TV shows and full-length movies on mobile phones that have the Android operating system, developed by Google.
There's no dearth of entertainment options among the 67,747 Android applications, according to Appolicious, an app review and recommendation site. But when it comes to movies and TV shows on Android, the offerings resemble swiss cheese, with large gaps of missing content.
Blockbuster, for example, has an app that can stream movies, but only on a handful of devices including Motorola's Droid X phones from Verizon and HTC's HD2 handset from T-Mobile. YouTube, which is owned by Google, has more than 300 movies users can rent, but lacks titles from several major Hollywood studios. Another app, FuelTV, carries mainly extreme sports videos. And Slingbox can access only TV programming and recorded shows from the owner's home television.
Eric Berger, senior vice president of Sony Pictures' digital network and head of Crackle, said the service seeks to differentiate itself by programming a select number of genres such as science fiction, horror, comedy, action and thriller.
"We don't just aggregate content," Berger said. "We program and curate our titles to fit the tastes of our viewers."
The service began as an online video sharing service called Grouper Networks in 2004 and was purchased by Sony in 2006 for $65 million. Sony renamed the service Crackle and began streaming licensed content from its own movie and TV archives as well as content from other studios, attracting an average of 7 million unique online viewers a month this year, up from 5 million two years ago.
Sony is launching the mobile version of Crackle on Android, but has plans to develop one for Apple's iPhones, where Netflix currently dominates with its Instant Watch application for subscribers.
-- Alex Pham
Photo: Crackle application on an Xperia cellphone running Google's Android operating system. Credit: Sony Pictures.