How a Barnes & Noble Earnings Report Spurred AMC Networks’ Acquisition of Anime Distributor Sentai

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“I’ve never been a fan, but there’s a tremendous following for it,” AMC’s interim CEO Matt Blank says


Sometimes media-company acquisitions come from places you’d never look: in the graphic novels section of a Barnes & Noble. That was the case, at least in part, for AMC Networks’ recent acquisition of anime distributor and HIDIVE home Sentai.

“Literally in my first week on the job back in September, I was presented with this opportunity. The folks here were well into their discussions and putting that transaction together,” AMC Networks interim CEO Matt Blank said on Wednesday. “About two weeks later, there was a Wall Street Journal story, I think, about Barnes & Noble earnings and surprises in their store traffic. The article pointed out it was driven by two things: graphic novels and [anime] books. And I said, wow, this is a category I don’t know much about.”

“Full disclosure: I’ve never been a fan, but there’s a tremendous following for it,” he continued on the conference call following the release of AMC’s fourth-quarter earnings. “I view that acquisition as sort of a microcosm of our targeted strategy. There are audiences out there that we can reach, we can reach efficiently.”

The Houston-based Sentai has a streaming service called HIDIVE, which Blank believes AMC can “enhance tremendously” in terms of its marketing. AMC knows a thing or two about niche streaming services. The publicly traded company operates AMC+, Acorn TV, Shudder, Sundance Now and ALLBLK. Blank says he will worry about actually adding in AMC Networks’ I.P. “down the road a little bit.”

But Sentai/HIDIVE is “exactly on message” in terms of how AMC Networks likes to reach super fans. HIDIVE has low churn rates due to subscribers loyalty, Blank said, and “a programming cost that we can control.”

Nothing wrong with that. On Wednesday, AMC Networks reported that it ended 2021 with “more than” 9 million paid customers across its SVOD streaming platforms, and exceeded analysts’ estimates with 803.7 million in revenue, a 3% gain over the previous year. In addition, subscription revenues increased 11% domestically thanks to streaming growth.

Sentai distributes and curates one of the anime industry’s most diverse libraries, with its content available on Crunchyroll, Hulu and Amazon Prime, among others. The group’s executive management team of founder John Ledford, Griffin Vance, and Paul Clinkscales, is continuing on in senior roles.

“We are thrilled by AMC Networks’ acquisition and are excited to be a part of their growth strategy,” Ledford said last month when the deal was announced. “This acquisition will not change Sentai’s mission to deliver the most exciting anime content to audiences around the world — it will expand it greatly and will give our content businesses more distribution, more partnerships, more scale and more reach. I could not be more pleased.”

AMC’s Sentai acquisition includes all of the member interests from Cool Japan Fund, Inc., a public-private Japanese investment fund.