AT&T has agreed to sell streaming service Crunchyroll to Sony for an estimated $1.75 billion. The news comes as a bit of a surprise to me, although other sites say that AT&T has been shopping for a buyer for the service for some time.
What is Crunchyroll?
Crunchyroll is a streaming service that caters to anime fans. It has for a long time been considered the top streaming service for anime lovers, and its sale to Sony’s Funimation unit will unite Crunchyroll with another major player in the space.
HBO Max has featured some Crunchyroll content since launch. (Not much, though.) I would expect that would change after the deal closes.
A little history
AT&T has only owned Crunchyroll since 2018. when it purchased parent company Otter Media. Looking back, it doesn’t seem like AT&T has ever really had a long-term interest in Crunchyroll. If you think about it, this is about as fast as AT&T could divest itself of Crunchyroll.
This sale makes sense for AT&T. They’ve been focused all year on HBO Max, which is a very mainstream service. HBO Max has a lot of different content but the one thing that seems to unite all of it is that it’s all really accessible to the mainstream. Popular movies, family fare, and classic TV combine with the stable of HBO originals to reach an extremely wide audience. Crunchyroll doesn’t seem to fit into that category.
More interestingly, you have to wonder if this deal signals the beginning of a change at AT&T, which since the mid-2000s has been growing and consolidating. Remember that the company we now think of as AT&T was originally the local telephone company SBC, and it’s grown in influence steadily, to the point where it now overshadows the original company from the 20th century that was broken up.
Selling off Crunchyroll could signal the beginning of a more focused approach for AT&T, which has a massive footprint in the telecommunications world. From cellular and local phone service to satellite TV, home internet, news, content creation, movies, and comics you could say that AT&T does it all. This has put a large target on its back. Even in a fairly business-friendly environment such as we’ve enjoyed for the last four years, AT&T has faced repeated scrutiny. Tightening up its portfolio might convince regulators to look elsewhere.
But does this “mean anything?”
There’s been a lot of tension among satellite enthusiasts the last year or so. The rumor mill has been grinding out story after story about AT&T’s willingness to sell off its DIRECTV unit. Just yesterday there was another story about it.
I tend to not indulge in that sort of idle speculation, and for the most part the people who seem to report these rumors are long-time DIRECTV haters. It does not seem to me that AT&T’s sale of Crunchyroll means that a sale of DIRECTV is coming quickly. I will remind everyone that during its 26 year history, DIRECTV was wholly owned by GM, then was independent. During that time it was majority owned by several companies, including News Corp. and Liberty Media. The AT&T purchase was announced in 2015, but it took years for the issues to really work their way through. In fact it’s fair to say that AT&T and DIRECTV are still merging and will be for some time.
Any sale of DIRECTV would face scrutiny for months, and if the sale went through, it would likely take a year or more for regular folks to see any difference.
So, the sale of Crunchyroll is just the sale of Crunchyroll, and doesn’t mean things are going to change for satellite lovers any time soon.