In late 2020, Sony was in talks with anime streaming site, Crunchyroll, to purchase the company for almost $1 billion. Sony reportedly has plans to combine Crunchyroll with Funimation, which it already owns, in an attempt to have a streaming service with a massive anime library and win over anime fans.
However, the United States Justice Department has decided to extend its antitrust review into a full-on probe in order to find out if this deal would give Sony a monopoly.
For those unfamiliar with an antitrust probe, it’s an investigation to find out if a company would gain a lot of control in a specific industry and create unfair competition. Centralizing that much industry power is illegal as it can lead to a cartel forming to limit competition and result in price-fixing.
Needless to say, the Justice Department is strongly against monopolies and the probe would delay the sale for several months, maybe outright killing it.
Basically Sony Crunchyroll acquisition news was welcomed by Japanese.
But even mainstream media such as variety seems to fear of monopoly.
It's interesting to see how the tone of the debate varies from region to region like this.https://t.co/VR8GRKezxL
— ＜レイフォース＞ (@rayforcegame) March 25, 2021
Demand for anime surged under the pandemic; as of February of this year, Crunchyroll has over 4 million subscribers. No doubt Sony saw this, recognized the money-making potential, and jumped at the chance to own more of the market.
And it’s not just owning anime series. Crunchyroll also owns the right to publish some mangas here in the West and they have their own anime convention.
Recent years have seen streaming companies acquire anime series as demand grew. Netflix has Beastars, Knights of Sidonia, and Devilman Crybaby as anime originals. HBO Max managed to acquire the coveted Studio Ghibli library, something that wasn’t available outside of Japan.
If this deal with Crunchyroll goes through, then Sony would own the majority of anime distribution in the West and bring competition to their knees.
Sony has been buying up the competition since September 2019. The company purchased Funimation, France’s Wakanim, and Australia’s Madman Anime Group. Customers have to deal with Sony and whatever decision they make with few- if any- other options.
Threats of Censorship
Sony has been criticized in the past for censoring video games. In 2019, Sony decided to change its sexual content guidelines following the #MeToo movement. DualShockers also reported that Sony is censoring depictions of violence in video games, much to the chagrin of gamers.
Funimation has been accused of censorship in the past but the accusations don’t really hold water. Funimation has also been accused of altering scripts for anime shows in an attempt to push their political opinions onto their audience.
Fans said they are unhappy with Sony’s changes and argued the company is altering authorial intent without consent.
Neither Sony, the DoJ, or Crunchyroll have made any sort of public comment concerning the probe. We’ll just have to wait and see what the probe turns up.
Personally, I hope Sony does not purchase Crunchyroll and the DoJ puts a stop to that. Sony owning that much of the anime industry kills competition and stifles creativity. Given Sony’s recent censorship policy, I’m a little worried about what will happen if the deal goes through.