GM Joanne Waage, who took the helm of Crunchyroll in late 2018, said the platform has seen accelerating growth. Founded in 2006, it reached 1 million streaming subscribers in 2016 and then hit the 2 million mark toward the end of 2018. Initially a San Francisco-based online forum for uploaded anime clips and message boards, it has grown to 70 million registered users in 200 countries.
Crunchyroll says it has the world’s largest anime library with more than 1,000 titles and 30,000 episodes. Initially a unit of Otter Media and AT&T, it was shifted last year under the aegis of WarnerMedia and its entertainment chairman, Bob Greenblatt. The main reason for that shuffle was the launch of HBO Max, which includes a hub of anime fare curated by Crunchyroll.
In an interview with Deadline, Waage declined to speculate on the broader strategy of WarnerMedia in streaming, but she said “the goal is to fuel both” Crunchyroll and HBO Max. “We believe we can grow this area by exposing people to it,” she added. “Dramatic animation is in its infancy … We are Fox 30 years ago with The Simpsons. This is a category that will only grow.”
The past two years have seen a flurry of activity at the parent companies, as AT&T closed its $81 billion acquisition of Time Warner and restructured it while pursuing a multi-billion-dollar streaming entrant. Niche service FilmStruck was shut down by WarnerMedia, with many of its library titles migrating to HBO Max, leaving many observers to speculate about whether other services would follow in that path. DC Universe, for example, launched as a direct-to-consumer offering in September 2018. HBO Max is now emphasizing its DC titles, including the upcoming director’s cut of Justice League.
Crunchyroll, though, remains in expansion mode. In late 2019, it closed the majority acquisition of VIZ Media Europe Group, expanding its consumer brand portfolio. It now operates streaming services Anime Digital Network (in partnership with Citel, a subsidiary of Média-Participations) and Anime on Demand, DVD and manga publisher KAZÉ, and live action content distributor Eye See Movies.
It also is active across e-commerce, games, events and merchandising and is a force in ad-supported digital streaming. The subscription streaming offering costs $8 a month or $80 for a full year.
Waage said animation has been at the heart of WarnerMedia since the early days of Warner Bros., noting that Crunchyroll exists on HBO Max alongside Rick & Morty, South Park, Looney Tunes and other titles. The library of Hayao Miyazaki was a marquee acquisition for HBO Max, and while the Spirited Away auteur’s work skews younger and more family than most Crunchyroll anime, there is a degree of overlap.
“What it shows is that HBO Max gets this,” Waage said.
Citing company research, she said only 6% of Gen Z survey respondents agreed with the statement, “I don’t know what anime is.” About 90% of Crunchyroll’s audience is comprised of avid videogame players.
“We don’t see it as always being niche,” Waage said of anime. “People want a community around it and they want to engage.”