While major digital streaming platforms like Netflix are sure to offer respectable libraries of anime series and films (some of them possibly original and exclusive to each service), there are streamers that cater only to anime content. There is Funimation, founded in 1994 as an anime dubber and distributor and expanding into its own cable channel and in-website content streaming. Then there is Crunchyroll, founded in 2006 as a website illegally streaming fan-subtitled anime before going legit in 2009 and becoming part of WarnerMedia. Sony Pictures Television acquired Funimation in 2018 and, in 2020, used the latter in discussions to acquire Crunchyroll. But the US Justice Department is crying foul.
Anime News Network tells us that the United States Department of Justice has on Wednesday, March 24, moved to extend its review of Sony Pictures Television’s planned acquisition of anime streaming distributor Crunchyroll. The DOJ is seeing red flags in that SPT already has a major anime distributor in Funimation since nearly three years ago, and the media giant’s proposal to combine the two platforms into a unified anime streaming service is being considered an antitrust issue. Sony had put down $1.175 billion in the acquisition of Crunchyroll via Funimation.
Where anime is concerned, Funimation and Crunchyroll are probably two of the biggest names in the distribution industry stateside, while Netflix, Amazon and HBO Max are more the “content + anime” sort despite their own impressive selections. The Justice Department is looking into the possibility that combining the two under Sony ownership will limit choices, especially for Japanese anime production companies looking for US partners in licensing their works. There is concern that Sony may be moving into an unprecedented level of influence and control over the anime industry in Japan and overseas, especially as Crunchyroll also has manga publishing and anime convention organizing outside its main anime distribution gig.
Already Sony has Japanese anime studios A-1 Pictures and CloverWorks as subsidiaries, while Funimation in the US has been consolidated with similar acquisition-distribution companies as Wakanim (France) and Madman Anime Group (Australia). Adding Crunchyroll into the mix gives Sony a massive anime-making and distributing juggernaut. The question now is whether the US DOJ can push this as an antitrust case, and if they can win.
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