It was nice while it lasted but sadly Funimation announced that their streaming partnership with Crunchyroll is coming to an end. Starting on November 9th, 2018 Funimation titles such as Cowboy Bebop, Psycho-Pass, Assassination Classroom, and many others will be removed from Crunchyroll. Funimation will also be leaving Crunchyroll’s bundled streaming service VRV and discontinuing their sub-only subscription option for Funimation Now. Funimation has also stated that DVD and Blu-ray releases of Crunchyroll titles during their partnership will continue to be fulfilled and mutually-licensed simulcast titles like My Hero Academia and Attack on Titan would stay on both platforms. Before we examine why this partnership ended and what the future holds, let’s go back and see how this relationship started in the first place.
In 2016, Funimation was still an independent company and Crunchyroll wasn’t completely owned by AT&T yet. Crunchyroll had become the primary way to stream anime legally in North America and various other territories. Funimation’s own streaming service (Funimation Now) didn’t start until 2016. Netflix had started to gain an ever-growing foothold within the anime space. There was a growing fear with the large amount of capital at their disposal that Netflix and Amazon would be within their means to potentially swoop in and dominate the anime streaming market. On September 8, 2016 Funimation and Crunchyroll announced their streaming partnership. This partnership was great for Funimation and Crunchyroll because:
- Crunchyroll could now put Funimation’s large and popular selection of titles on their streaming platforms (Crunchyroll and VRV) and vice versa (Crunchyroll titles on Funimation Now)
- Crunchyroll could release their titles like Ace Attorney, Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress, Kantai Collection, and others on home video with the expertise and resources of Funimation
- Funimation’s streaming offerings could get wider exposure and potentially some technical input from Crunchyroll
- The cost to license new content could be shared between the two companies, thus lowering each company’s need to completely flip the bill
- By teaming up together, their major streaming competitors (Netflix and Amazon) would have less of an ability to dominate the market
- Tons and tons of fan goodwill
Why Breakup this Partnership?
Media Consolidation to Compete with Netflix
Since Netflix started streaming movies and TV shows in 2007, it has completely disrupted the media landscape (in good ways and bad). Viewers typically no longer watch their entertainment at a linear time unless it’s a sporting event. People now watch their entertainment whenever they want, causing traditional cable and TV subscriptions to go down in revenue, where all the traditional media conglomerates like Disney and Time Warner (now part of AT&T) made their money. Netflix has also been spending Billions (with a Big B) to license and produce all kinds of content. The decline of traditional TV and the shift to streaming caused companies to follow the streaming trend. Disney and AT&T have now announced their own streaming services to compete with Netflix. In order to build a big enough library to compete and appeal to consumers, every media conglomerates have been trying to buy up each other through mergers and acquisition spending sprees. Disney buying a majority of Fox assets, AT&T buying Time Warner (which owns HBO, Cartoon Network, and DC Comics), etc. Funimation and Crunchyroll were just another group of assets waiting to be acquired. On October 27, 2017, a majority stake of ownership in Funimation was sold to a division of Sony. On August 7th, 2018 Crunchyroll’s parent company, Otter Media, was bought by Time Warner, which is now merging with AT&T. At that point, it was highly unlikely that two rival media conglomerates were going to keep working together, thus eventually leading to the end of the Funimation-Crunchyroll partnership.
So what happens now?
The news of Funimation and Crunchyroll’s breakup was sad and frustrating, but there are some positives and of course some negatives.
1. HIDIVE is coming to VRV
HIDIVE is Sentai Filmworks’s streaming service with their own collection of anime fan-favorites like Food Wars!, Made in Abyss, Haikyu!!, Monster Musume and even classic anime options like Patlabor, Armored Trooper Votoms, and Legend of the Galactic Heroes. This is great for Sentai because VRV is available on a many more devices compared to HIDIVE, giving Sentai’s titles more exposure to a wider audience (including their movies, OVAs, and english dubs which were previously exclusive to home video releases and on HIDIVE). While not having as large of a library and lacking many anime evergreen titles as compared to Funimation, Sentai has plenty of titles that fans care about, so it’s generally quite a good deal for folks sticking with VRV.
2. Funimation and Crunchyroll will Not Overtaken by Netflix or Amazon
It’s highly likely that Netflix and Amazon will always play a role in the anime streaming space; look at the success of Devilman Crybaby and Little Witch Academia. That being said as long as Funimation and Cruchyroll’s large parent companies keep giving them resources and financial backing, they will always be the big players in the anime space in the west. Plus, all the major players (Funimation, Crunchyroll, and Sentai Filmworks) all have forged a direct marketing connection with their fans, something that the anime people over at Netflix and Amazon have either failed at or not even tried to do.
3. Funimation Needs to Step up Their Game
Before Funimation was a part of VRV, I briefly used Funimation Now. In a word, it wasn’t a great experience. I would constantly have log in over and over and over again. I would have to start and stop the anime I was watching due to never-ending buffering. My experience soured my opinion on Funimation Now, and many others would agree with me. If Funimation expects me to pay $60 per year to watch their content, here is the base-level of what they need to do.
- Improve your video player and app
- With reduced physical products in their pipeline, the time between announcement and release can be reduced but I have my doubts
- Have better communication with your customers
- Use your Sony connections to release their older titles like Paprika, Memories, Tokyo Godfathers, and Tekkonkinkreet on streaming and home video
- PUT. YOUR NAME. ON. STREAMING. DO IT.
4. What Service Gets What & More Questions
For the majority of titles, it’s easy to see who gets what in this breakup. The big question is will be what mutual simulcast titles will either go to Funimation or Crunchyroll (it is important to note that shows like One Piece and Attack on Titan have always been shared licenses, even before the partnership. That has to do with CR and Funimation’s individual deals with Japan, not with each other). Another question is that if Crunchyroll decides to return to doing physical releases, will they do it with the help of Sentai Filmworks? Discotek maybe? Will Crunchyroll do it themselves? Will the home video division of Warner take that over? Who is to say yet.
5. Welcome to the World of Multiple Subscriptions
Unfortunately, it’s true and already happening. As more and more companies shift to streaming media, companies will hold their content for their own streaming services, forcing you and me to pick and choose what to pay for. The days of “Netflix having everything” are over and never coming back. By my own estimation and research, there are over 25 streaming services that cover various niche fandoms from anime to Bollywood to wrestling to more catch-all mainstream content. For anime specifically, not including VRV, there are now 3 different streaming services that cater to anime fans specifically; Funimation Now, HIDIVE, and Crunchyroll. Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime have anime as a part of their service but it’s not their primary focus, so I would consider them separate for these purposes.
If you hate the fractured nature of streaming content, I feel your pain. Just be sure to vote with your wallet!