A major anime shakeup is on the drawing board. Sony, according to a report in Japan’s Nikkei newspaper, is in advanced talks with AT&T to purchase the popular anime platform Crunchyroll for about $960 million. Sony purchased Funimation in 2017 for $150 million, and earlier this year the electronics giant also invested $400 million for a minority stake in China’s Bilibili (which has a strong anime presence as well). Crunchyroll is the leading anime streaming service in the US and reached three million paying subscribers worldwide earlier this year.
If the deal for Crunchyroll is completed, Sony would be a juggernaut in the anime business, and as Variety has noted, the company is already enjoying the fruits of its Aniplex subsidiary’s recent production, Demon Slayer The Movie: Mugen Train, which earned over $150 million in just 17 days at the Japanese box office.
Netflix, Hulu and others have ramped up their investment into anime content, and HBO Max’s anime portfolio is largely licensed from Crunchyroll (except for the popular Studio Ghibli content), so a Crunchyroll acquisition would have a direct impact on HBO in the streaming wars. Moreover, Crunchyroll has numerous agreements with the likes of Adult Swim’s Toonami, VIZ Media, and Webtoon. What happens to those relationships post-acquisition is unclear.
Sony’s Funimation is currently a US-only service, so an acquisition of Crunchyroll represents a play at international expansion. According to Interpret’s New Media Measure: Global Profiles®, Crunchyroll is watched by 4% of the population in the US and Brazil, 5% in Singapore, and 6% of the Philippines – the Philippines also have the largest proportion of viewers (33%) who regularly watch anime content.