Grouper, the online file-sharing-service-turned-user-generated-video site that was acquired by Sony last year for a cool $65 million, just got a new name, new direction, and new talent.

Instead of playing the same old user-gen game, the freshly dubbed Crackle aims to populate its channels with a mix of professionally produced and user-submitted video that’s vetted by the site’s community and editorial team. Crackle also hopes to snap up top online content producers by enticing them with contests that award cash and access to major Hollywood and media outlets.

More on the new venture after the jump. ###

In the words of Josh Felser, the site’s founder and co-president, “Crackle’s irreverent editorial team, with a little help from our viewers, programs our provocative and entertaining channels for an audience of 25 million monthly unique users. We reward the best video creators with Crackle funding, promotion, syndication and even greater exposure to our large media partners. Great content surfaced from our open studio models is the key to our success.”

Great content will most likely surface as the winners of contests that will span across Crackle’s 20+ genres and currently include: a chance for stand-up comedians to perform at one of the world famous Improv Comedy Clubs, a shot at a $15,000 short-film development deal and a meet and greet with Columbia Pictures execs, and an opportunity at another $15,000 for animators and a sit-down with Sony Pictures Animation.

Crackle marks the latest in an obvious trend of studios, networks, and talent agencies filtering the “slush pile” of web video to find, sign, and distribute quality online talent. In January, United Talent Agency partnered with Veoh to create a branded channel where UTA’s online division could search and showcase new online stars and TBS’s SuperDeluxe (Tilzy.TV page) has been making exclusive deals with sites like DutchWest (Tilzy.TV page) and Honor Student (Tilzy.TV page) for months.

But Crackle’s contests arguably offer better payouts than the best of what’s currently out there, and by leveraging its direct ties to Sony – an actual studio – the site has a huge advantage over most of its major competitors. This alone is already drawing talent of godly proportions.

Mr. Deity (Tilzy.TV page), Brian Dalton’s web sitcom where our higher power “is not some unknowable, awe-inspiring being, but rather a neurotic, often aloof and inept businessman,” was picked up by Crackle for a second, 10-episode season that will air exclusively on the site’s sketch-variety channel, Moving Targets.

According to the LA Times, a feature film might also be in the works.  Proponents of online video and fans of the show can only pray.

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