Sony, the Japanese entertainment and software giant, may be poised to buy control of anime streaming platform Crunchyroll. The site is currently owned by AT&T, which is believed to have sought buyers for it earlier this year.
The Sony angle emerged from a report late last week in Japan’s prestigious Nikkei newspaper. The Nikkei said that talks have advanced sufficiently that Sony now has exclusive negotiating rights on a Crunchyroll purchase.
The deal would have a price tag of JPY100 or $960 million at current rates of exchange. That is a significant step down from a $1.5 billion asking price reported by The Information in August.
Sony has performed relatively strongly this year, despite the negative impact of the coronavirus on hardware and theatrical movies. Its PlayStation5 launch appears to be going very strongly and its shares are up 10% since Jan. 1. In May, Sony management said that the company had a large war chest that it would use to pick up distressed or cut-priced assets.
Were a deal to be completed, it would be the second move this year by Sony to beef up its position in anime. In Spring, Sony paid $400 million for a minority stake in Bilibili, a fast-expanding online entertainment platform with a strong emphasis on name, comics and games.
It would also increase rivalry with streaming platforms Netflix and Hulu, which both compete for anime content. Netflix in particular has aggressively pursued content partnerships with anime production companies, recently expanding its roster to eight Japanese suppliers and one Korean.
Sony is currently riding high as owner of Aniplex, one of the production companies behind smash hit anime film “Demon Slayer The Movie: Mugen Train,” which has earned over $150 million in just 17 days at the Japanese box office. But that success also highlights Sony’s position as the only Hollywood studio consortium without its own global, generalist streaming platform.
Sony does own Funimation, a specialty anime streamer with about one million subscribers that it bought in 2017. But without ownership of a Disney Plus or HBO Max, Sony is obliged to license out “Demon Slayer” and other content. Sony also owns Wakanim and Madman Anime Group.
Analysts are already pondering whether Sony would seek to merge Crunchyroll and Funimation, and what that would mean for fans.
Remaking Sony as a more vertically-integrated and global anime powerhouse would likely mean several content deals need to be restructured or unwound. Hulu, for example, has a longstanding partnership with Funimation, which sees the two share many titles. In the U.S., HBO Max’s current anime offering is built around Crunchyroll content and the iconic Studio Ghibli.
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