Could the anime industry be heading into weird legal waters? It’s sure looking that way with a potential deal between a couple of major players in the space coming up on some US government radars. Budding animation styles aren’t what you would usually think of as being at the center of a government agency probe, but that’s the case with the US Department of Justice getting into the mix concerning a deal between Sony and two anime studios. According to The Verge, there is an investigation into possible monopoly and anti-trust issues with this latest deal which could end up posing major problems.
The issue stems from Sony’s Funimation purchasing the anime media company Crunchyroll. Sony’s plan for this merger was to take these two anime giants and turn them loose into a streaming service in the United States which would focus almost solely on this medium of content. That would be insanely great news for anime fans who would then have most of the best shows, programs, and movies under one streaming umbrella. But where it’s running into monopoly issues is the contention that this distribution deal would then become an overwhelming piece of the media market share for anime.
The deal for Sony Funimation to acquire Crunchyroll happened back in December with the former purchasing the latter from AT&T. It cost a cool $1.175 billion at the time though that appeared fairly industry-standard considering what they’d be getting in the deal. Crunchyroll already had roughly 70 million free subscribers to the service as well as three million folks under the premium service.
In Sony’s attempt to own the anime vertical though they may have now ended up owning *too much* of the content pie. Considering they are now the overwhelming leader in the anime clubhouse from production to distribution, there’s increasing concern that others won’t have a chance to compete in the United States market because of the current conditions. This would specifically stem from other Japanese outfits and their ability to bring programs to the United States. If Sony has overwhelming control over what can show up on screen and on streaming platforms, they can then manipulate or list deals as they see fit.
And as anime becomes more and more popular in the United States, this could be gearing up for a real battle to own the space. Sony is now the industry leader with this acquisition though Netflix and Amazon are looking to be players in the space as well. Those would also be distribution outlets, but Sony’s owning of the initial production and translation arms could continue to make it difficult there. The anime market is set for a massive increase over the next half-decade with estimates that the global industry will exceed $20 billion. There’s a reason the stakes are seen as high here and why Sony would want as big a chunk of the pie as possible. But did they overreach? There’s a chance the US government says they did.