Anime fans are still buzzing (and worrying) about Sony Pictures TV acquiring a 95% stake in Funimation. Corporate buy-outs can be a tangled mess and it can take a couple years before major changes (if any) take effect.
First, let’s cover what we do know. Sony Pictures TV now controls 95% of Funimation, which means Sony can call the shots. Gen Fukunaga is still Funimation’s CEO and he has a minority stake in the company. Like any corporate buyout, the deal has to go through governmental regulations before going into effect.
Once the deal is approved, we won’t see many short term changes with how Funimation is operated. Funimation did share a vague FAQ page that says all of their current deals and services will operate as usual. So rejoice, their joint-licensing partnership with Crunchyroll is safe for now.
Also, this deal does not relate to Aniplex in any form. Aniplex is a part of Sony Music Japan, which is a separate division from Sony Pictures TV.
Now for the fun stuff: changes! The first noticeable change will be in distribution. Sony is one of the largest distributors in the world, with experience in TV shows, movies, cable TV channels, and online streaming.
Funimation is one of the biggest names in English anime licensing and has one of the deepest catalogs. While home video sales in the U.S. follow a downward trend, Funimation has actually posted double-digit growth every year since 2013. According to a Bloomberg report, this is one of things that caught Sony’s eye.
Sony and Funimation are an interesting pair because of Sony’s distribution channels and Funimation’s growth. Online streaming has been Funimation’s Achilles heel despite strong home video sales, and they controlled the distribution of their own media (Universal Home Entertainment distributes for them).
Sony’s presence in brick-and-mortar stores outclasses Universal’s, which means anime fans can expect to see more Funimation discs. Sony also does a great job on the digital front in bringing titles to Netflix and Hulu. Funimation has a small presence on those services but adding them to their FunimationNow and Crunchyroll channels will only bring good things, especially for fans.
And an interesting, long-term element that not many have talked about could be theatrical releases. Sony’s distribution arm can help give Funimation’s anime movies a wide release oppose to the limited runs that Your Name and Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Gods saw.
The real game changer could be Funimation’s presence on production committees. Anime is getting more global, and companies like Netflix have stated their desire to produce anime content. Being able to co-produce anime allows a committee member to enjoy the financial success of the show, plus gives them some sort of voice in the direction of a project. It also shuts out the competition.
Funimation is about to have many committee doors opened to them thanks to this Sony deal. They were recently on the committee for Dimension W, but now Funimation can have the chance to join committees for larger projects or influence the creation of multiple seasons due to North American success.
But that is a long term effect and one that could end their licensing partnership with Crunchyroll. As of right now, anything that Funimation or Crunchyroll licenses is shared. Funimation has control over the dub and home video rights (which are distributed via Universal), while Crunchyroll handles the digital streaming and subtitles.
However, large companies like Sony want to maintain as much control over content as possible. Sony may allow Funimation to stream their content on Crunchyroll, but joint licensing might be a tougher sell. Any current licensing agreements made will have to be fulfilled, but don’t be surprised in their partnerships runs its course over the next couple of years.
As a trade-off, Funimation will have access to Sony’s non-Aniplex catalog, which includes Blood+, Memories, and Tokyo Godfathers. It might not be much, but Funimation does a good job at re-mastering and re-releasing older anime.
Sony’s buyout of Funimation is a big deal for the anime community. A strengthened distribution channel will give Funimation’s anime a wider audience, and it gives them an opportunity to join production committees. However, their joint-licensing partnership with Crunchyroll could be threatened in the future if Sony wants Funimation to regain full control over their licenses. We won’t truly know what will happen until at least 2 to 3 years from now, so we’ll all be anxiously playing the waiting game.