Although Netflix is the household name for video streaming and includes a selection of popular anime titles, anime fans in the US and elsewhere might be more familiar with Crunchyroll as the place to go to for streaming that particular genre. Thanks to its particular focus and niche market, Crunchyroll has withstood the test of time and the onslaught of other streaming services. The winds of change are blowing, however, and the service is changing owners for the third time in less than a decade, giving Sony almost complete control over anime distribution in the US.
Crunchyroll had a rather tumultuous beginning where its name was easily associated with piracy. It eventually cleaned up its act and became a legit distributor of East Asian animated content in the US, UK, and some European countries. It eventually caught the interest of AT&T’s WarnerMedia which bought Crunchyroll and parent company Otter Media for a reported sum of $1 billion in 2018.
AT&T was rumored to have been looking for a buyer and Sony was apparently the most likely prospect. Now it has confirmed those rumors of negotiations and has publicly announced an agreement to sell Crunchyroll to Sony. The sum, this time will be a higher $1.75 billion.
Technically, Crunchyroll will be owned by the Funimation Group which, in turn, is a joint venture between Sony Pictures and Sony Music Japan’s Aniplex. In other words, presuming it passes the customary regulatory scrutiny, Sony will become the world’s anime distribution powerhouse, especially in the US, where streaming services are only starting to ramp up their anime offerings.
This does raise the question of what will happen to Crunchyroll in the long run. It will most likely continue to operate independently for some time but it won’t be surprising if Sony eventually merges its two anime distribution brands into one.