Funimation Global Group, an international family of anime distributors and a subsidiary of Sony Pictures Entertainment, are set to acquire the anime streaming service Crunchyroll from parent company and telecoms giant AT&T, the two announced in a joint press release this morning. The deal has not yet closed, but will mean that Sony Pictures owns the two largest anime licensors in North America.
Reports had circulated in recent months indicating that AT&T, who own Crunchyroll under their WarnerMedia umbrella, were seeking a sale as part of a wider effort to try and offset the company’s growing debt. The purchase price has been agreed at $1.175 billion, to be paid in cash at closing.
This marks the latest and most significant expansion of Sony Pictures’ global anime network since their acquisition of Funimation in 2017. Since then, Sony Pictures has consolidated other international anime distributors owned by Sony Music Japan such as Australia’s Madman Entertainment, and acquired regional distributors such as Manga Entertainment UK last year.
It is not yet known what the future relationship between Crunchyroll and Funimation will be, given that they have for years been each other’s biggest competitor in the English-speaking anime market, with both running their own rival streaming platforms. The two shared a brief working relationship between 2016-2018 that saw them share streaming titles and Funimation distributing them on home entertainment, but that ended not long after Sony’s acquisition of Funimation. While not confirmed, a return to the home entertainment aspect of the deal is likely inevitable, although questions such as whether Funimation Global Group will keep or consolidate the two streaming platforms, remain to be answered.
Beyond streaming availability, there is potential for this acquisition to have a significant ripple effect on the anime industry in the UK & Ireland, which is notably smaller than North America’s. Due in part to sharing the English language, our market has benefitted from relationships with North American companies that have ranged from distribution agreements, sub-licensing titles, and events like theatrical releases. With Manga Entertainment having already inherited Funimation’s titles following their acquisition, the potential addition of exclusivity to Crunchyroll’s catalogue could significantly limit the availability of anime series for other distributors, such as Anime Limited and MVM Entertainment.
Anime Limited in particular have recently enjoyed a working relationship with Crunchyroll, assisting with their presence at conventions like MCM London Comic Con and acquiring distribution rights to their titles, such as the recently announced In/Spectre. The company has seen a significant expansion into films in recent years, however, with hits like Your Name and a packed slate for 2021, while MVM Entertainment have been licensing more titles distributed in North America by Sentai Filmworks. What impact this news may have on the future of the global, and specifically the UK & IRE, anime market remains to be seen, but all the updates will be here at Anime UK News as they happen.
Source: Sony Pictures
Update: Purchase amount amended – credit to Ian Wolf for the tip.