Hulu and Funimation Are Joining Forces in 2019

Following the recent dissolution of their partnership with animé streaming service Crunchyroll, animé distributor Funimation has announced a new partnership with Hulu.

The new deal will grant Hulu a first look at U.S. streaming video-on-demand rights to future animé series produced and released by Funimation beginning in 2019, and will make Hulu and Funimation the co-exclusive première destinations to certain new subtitled animé hits day and date with the worldwide première in Japan. It also broadens Hulu and Funimation’s previously-existing agreement and will make both Hulu and Funimation the co-exclusive U.S. première homes to dozens of highly-anticipated, new animé titles each year.

Funimation’s catalog includes over 600 titles, such as Tokyo Ghoul, Attack on Titan, Sword Art Online, Goblin Slayer, Rascal Does Not Dream of Bunny Girl Senpai, Last Exile, Project Blue Earth SOS, Haibane Renmei, and The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya. Presumably, all of these titles will become available to Hulu subscribers.

ForbesRob Salkowitz sees the partnership as a direct response to Netflix’s recent, and massive, investments in animé:

Last year it looked like Netflix had locked up an under-appreciated niche in the pop culture space, Japanese-style animation (animé), by bankrolling more than a dozen new series and original movies, as well as bringing hits from the Asian market to North American audiences. But Hulu has now launched a major counter-offensive, inking a first-look deal with Sony-owned animé powerhouse Funimation to distribute new licensed and produced titles starting in 2019. This is the largest agreement the streamer has made for animé programming to date.

While the ROI here is impossible to determine yet, especially considering the expense involved in producing animé, there are business reasons for investing in animé:

Animation in general and animé in particular are important battlefields in the escalating competition between streaming services, even though they don’t command the money and attention of the big scripted live-action original series. Shows like My Hero Academia, last year’s breakout hit about a high school for super-powered kids, may not register with the older, male-leaning comics and superhero audience in the US, but they are huge hits globally and attract a much younger, more demographically diverse fan base. Their organic social media footprint is gigantic, and they activate fans who inhabit hard-to-reach social platforms like WhatsApp and Snapchat.

However this deal ends up shaking out, I’m just excited that a whole new batch of streamers — Hulu crossed the 20 million subscriber mark earlier this year — will get to see criminally unheralded titles like Project Blue Earth SOS and Haibane Renmei.