12/11/2020   Alice Thorpe
Anime on demand: Sony eyes Crunchyroll in bid to overtake Netflix

Sony is close to acquiring WarnerMedia-owned SVoD service Crunchyroll for a reported $957 million sum, according to Nikkei. The deal could see the Japanese giant combine the Anime-focused US streaming service, which earlier this year surpassed 3m paid subscribers globally, with its own Funimation subscription base. Sony not only has a 95% stake in Anime distributor Funimation but also owns major Anime studio Aniplex, and an acquisition of Crunchyroll has the potential to give the corporation an unrivalled position in the Anime streaming market. 

Anime content is an increasingly important battleground for SVoD companies when it comes to securing young subscribers. Ampere’s Q3 2020 consumer data reveals a marked preference for the genre among young US consumers: 13% of 18-24-year-old US SVoD subscribers named Anime as their favourite genre, making it the second most selected among the demographic after Comedy. Across the 24 countries surveyed, Anime was the 6th most selected as favourite genre among 18-24-year-old SVoD subscribers.

Netflix has upped its commitment to original Anime in recent years in a bid to attract fans of the genre. It has so far announced 12 new Anime Originals in 2020 alone and held an elaborate two-hour presentation of its upcoming shows at the Tokyo-based Netflix Anime Festival 2020, livestreamed in both Japanese and English. The service has notably favoured Anime adaptations of IP instantly recognisable to its consumer base both in and outside of Japan, commissioning Anime spin-offs from the Cyberpunk 2077 and Splinter Cell game franchises this year, as well a new series spin-off from the iconic Godzilla franchise. 

Crunchyroll has also made a concerted move to rival Netflix’s investment in Anime production in 2020, announcing a slate of 10 new Crunchyroll Originals and partnering with South Korean platform WEBTOON to bring adaptations of popular properties such as Tower of God and Noblesse to international audiences.

Crunchyroll currently has over 2500 distinct titles in its global catalogue, two thirds of which is animated content, and the deal should bring with it a wealth of new anime streaming rights to enhance Sony’s already considerable licensing power. A newly combined service would be an alluring prospect for international anime fans, who have nevertheless shown themselves willing to subscribe to multiple services to keep up with the 150 or so new Anime shows announced on average each year. Both Crunchyroll and Funimation simulcast new Anime shows as they air in Japan, which will remain a big draw for the most dedicated fans. Netflix meanwhile, has so far maintained its adherence to a “binge-able” release model internationally, dropping entire seasons of Anime at once outside of Japan.

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