Following Nikkei Asia's extraordinary story on Sony's proposed acquisition of Crunchyroll, it seems as though the anime streaming war, which has been heating up rapidly with exclusive content being produced for the major players, may already be over.
Sony already owns streaming service Funimation (which folded Madman and Wakanim into it's brand back in September '19) boasting over one million paid subscribers - Crunchyroll would add another three million to that total, plus the details of seven million free signups. The really eye-watering figure is the combined catalogue however - over 1,500 shows to stream (600 at Funimation, 900 on Crunchyroll). This will dwarf offerings from other channels.
Let's put this in perspective - Netflix boasts a total of 183 million paid subscribers worldwide and not only has exclusive distribution rights for Fuji TV's exceptional +Ultra programming (BEASTARS, Carole & Tuesday, Great Pretender), but also has Makato Shinkai's catalogue and the complete Ghibli collection up for grabs. Furthermore, Eden marks the first "in-house" anime original series, taking them into original content territory. However they only host around 190 anime shows.
Amazon Prime Video has 150 million paid subscribers and a smattering of anime shows, which are honestly hard to find at the best of times.
Both of these brands carry varied content, with anime being a fractional investment, so likely they won't be bothered by Sony's potential near-monopoly. Even Channel 4's All 4 service has 100 hours of anime programming thanks to it's deal with Anime Ltd (pushed through just as Funimation dropped the company in favour of purchasing Manga Entertainment) so if anime is only a passing interest, chances are one of the streaming services you do use has you covered.
The only other real dedicated anime service, Hidive, would see itself massively outgunned, despite efforts to drive more viewers to the channel by teaming up with popular site AnimeList in September 2019 to drive traffic to their 500 titles. Fun fact, Hidive is the new service that launched when Anime Network collapsed, a company that wanted to sue us for using "their" name in the UK about 8 years ago. You have to laugh!
There are other streaming services, such as the fledgling Screen Anime, but with the content only available for 30 days at a time and a very limited roster of titles to rotate, this won't bother Funimation as they continue to steamroll across the industry eating up the real players.
Is this good for the consumer?
The main advantage to customers will be a massive amount of anime in one place. Assuming Sony don't get greedy, you have effectively two massive catalogues merged into a single price - financially, this is a good outcome for you and I. The longer term effects on the medium as a whole are likely to be more divisive.
Both Sony and Crunchyroll have been accused of censoring anime for a global audience, as well as allowing politicisation into shows that was not in the original work (Miss Kobayashi's Dragon Maid is a prime example). I can't say that's ever bothered me personally, but it has touched a nerve with a large number of fans who see it as invasive and unnecessary. In any other context it would presumably be cultural appropriation. It also helps that the messages being inserted skew to the louder side of social media, so resistance is minimal in any case.
There's also the effect of cultural dilution. The globalist turn within the anime industry of the last ten years has certainly led to major changes in what Japanese creators will put into anime. Western pressures pushed Sword Art Online author Reki Kawahara to publicly announce he would be more politically sensitive in the way he writes female characters early last year in an interview with Dengeki Online. Whether this is a positive or negative aspect to how culturally "pure" your anime is will depend on your own tastes (and there's certainly no damage in making characters more rounded in my opinion). This has, however, led to some feeling that anime is being changed into something "other". A global monopoly of anime from a known censor is certainly going to push this agenda forward.
So where does this leave us?
I think it's inevitable that anime will change as it crosses boundaries and enters new markets - the niche Japan-centric anime of my own youth is probably on its way out, which in one sense makes me feel as though we've lost a unique window into another culture. But that's what we have physical media and back catalogues for.
So long as much larger players like Amazon and Netflix take an interest in the medium, we will always have choice, and perhaps even better programming as competition heats up. But for a dedicated anime streaming service, the smart money would be bet on Sony and it's potential monolithic catalogue - let's just hope that the shows we love don't vanish as Western sensibilities change - it'd be a shame to see that huge catalogue actually grow smaller!