December 05, 2020

Streaming together again

One of the running jokes on the Car Talk radio show was its "Capital Depreciation Fund," that guaranteed a "50 percent return." In other words, you stood to only lose half of the money you invested with them.

Car Talk is apparently where AT&T got its buy high, sell low strategy. Having already signaled its willingness to unload DirecTV at fire-sale prices, subsidiary WarnerMedia's Crunchyroll turned out to be the first on the chopping block.

If the negotiations pan out, Sony will acquire Crunchyroll for a thirty percent discount from the $1.5 billion asking price, and turn Sony into an anime streaming juggernaut. Sony already owns Funimation, the second largest anime streaming service in North America, and anime production powerhouse Aniplex.

That leaves HIDIVE, the distant third of the "big three," as the sole independent anime provider in the North American market. And, frankly, HIDIVE could stand being acquired by a media entity with deep pockets and a major market presence too.

Though I think it's too early to cry monopoly. Netflix, for one, has been making a major push into anime, and not just with its Originals. Netflix licenses titles across the board and is forging partnerships with major Japanese anime studios like Kyoto Animation, Production I.G, Bones, and David Productions.

Sony's acquisition of Crunchyroll would give Funimation access to Crunchyroll's impressive backlist of titles and add Crunchyroll's significant international presence to Sony's previous acquisitions of French anime streaming service Wakanim and Australian streaming service AnimeLab.

Perhaps because Sony is getting even more serious about anime, my sense this season was that Funimation grabbed the lion's share of the best new titles. But I much prefer the way Crunchyroll (and Netflix) encodes its own subtitles rather than using the clunky closed captions favored by Funimation and HIDIVE.

My guess is that, if the deal goes through, Sony will maintain the companies as separate divisions while restoring the content sharing deal they had before being acquired by their respective multinationals. According to which, rather than duplicate efforts, Crunchyroll concentrates on subs and Funimation on dubs.

Even if Sony raised the price of Funimation to match Crunchyroll, it'd be worth it if you only had to subscribe to one to get access to the libraries of both.

Update: Pending regulatory approval, it's a done deal. Crunchyroll will be acquired by Sony's Funimation Global Group for $1.175 billion.

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