By Evan DeSimone
Otter Media, the AT&T/Chernin Group video entertainment co-venture, is investing $22 million in its anime streaming subsidiary Crunchyroll.
The investment from Otter is earmarked to help Crunchyroll build out its engineering team and accelerate its move into original content. The cash will technically flow through Ellation, the umbrella brand created by Otter last summer, to manage some, though not all, of its online video acquisitions. Among these properties, Crunchyroll is the fastest growing. The service, which streams licensed and live Japanese animation content to western audiences, currently boasts 20 million active monthly users watching nearly 1.5 billion minutes of anime per month. Crunchyroll’s subscription service, offering an ad-free experience and next day access to new episodes, is closing in on 750,000 paid subscribers.
Some of the funds will be used to grow Crunchyroll’s product and development team. The rest will finance a coventure between Crunchyroll and Japanese trading conglomerate the Sumitomo Corporation. The venture is expected to center on original anime co-productions that Crunchyroll will distribute globally on its streaming platform. It’s a move that was hinted at last summer when Crunchyroll hired VIZ Productions vet Branon Collucio as head of original content. Thus far, that originals push has only resulted in a handful of web comics, but a cash infusion from its parent company should move the company’s collaboration with Japanese creators and studios forward.
Crunchyroll is part of a rising wave of niche streaming platforms that also includes Korean TV drama streamer DramaFever that have found success delivering otherwise difficult to access foreign content to western audiences. DramaFever has also committed to producing more original content.
This is the first major move in several months for Otter and Ellation. The umbrella platform has been fairly quiet since it was announced back in August. Crunchyroll recently sold Soompi, its English language Asian pop culture fansite, to Viki. That move, combined with the $22 million cash infusion, suggests that Otter may be streamlining the focus of Ellation around its most successful component.