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Hulu Lands Funimation First-Look Deal for Japanese Anime Series (EXCLUSIVE)

Hulu is doubling down on anime: The streamer, in its biggest deal for anime programming to date, inked an exclusive first-look pact with Funimation to distribute new titles licensed and produced by Funimation starting in 2019.

The new agreement comes after Funimation, owned by Sony Pictures Television, ended its cross-licensing deal with rival Crunchyroll earlier this fall.

Under the new multiyear pact between Hulu and Funimation, Hulu gets first dibs on U.S. streaming video-on-demand rights to anime series from Funimation. The deal will make Hulu and Funimation the co-exclusive destinations to certain new subtitled anime series day-and-date with their Japanese broadcast premieres (and eventually dubbed versions as well).

Hulu’s plan is to get more than 20 seasons per year of new Japanese anime series simulcast, plus dubbed versions, said Lisa Holme, Hulu’s VP of content acquisition.

“What this partnership brings us is the highest volume of high-quality anime hits, day and date when they release in Japan,” Holme said. “We had a high degree of confidence in Funimation’s ability to execute — to get the biggest, best, noisiest anime.”

Holme declined to identify which titles Hulu and Funimation are eyeing, saying bidding with Japanese anime studios is currently underway. But, she added, “We do have some pretty big titles from Funimation on Hulu already, and to extent they have future seasons those are obvious targets.”

Under their existing agreement, Hulu and Funimation continue to be the only platforms in the U.S. to stream all subbed and dubbed episodes of top anime shows including “Attack on Titan” (pictured above), “My Hero Academia” and “Tokyo Ghoul.”

The new deal “will fuel the acquisition of new titles and provide both Funimation and Hulu subscribers with access to the very best in anime that Japan has to offer,” said Gen Fukunaga, Funimation’s founder and general manager.

Funimation, through its FunimationNow streaming service, will offer access to the same anime titles that it makes available to Hulu. But the companies say they’re going after different kinds of anime fans, with Funimation catering to hard-core anime buffs and Hulu aimed at a broader market. “Ultimately we think the customer bases are different and complementary,” said Eric Berger, chief digital officer of Sony Pictures Television and GM of Sony Crackle. He noted that Funimation’s business also encompasses merchandise sales, live events, community features and theatrical releases.

Sony Pictures Television last year acquired Funimation for $143 million. SPT unwound its content deal with Crunchyroll, which is now wholly owned by AT&T’s Otter Media, to play across both subtitled and dubbed anime. Under their now-expired deal, Crunchyroll had offered subtitled versions and Funimation provided dubbed versions of the same shows.

With the Hulu deal, “the beauty is, Funimation can now play bigger,” said Berger. “By acquiring titles for a larger footprint, you can look for some stronger titles and ultimately be a better partners for anime studios in Japan.”

Funimation’s catalog includes more than 600 shows, providing more than 10,000 hours of subbed and dubbed programming. The FunimationNow service operates in the U.S., Canada, the U.K., Ireland, Australia and New Zealand, priced at $5.99 per month (or $59.99 for a one-year subscription).

All told, Hulu currently streams nearly 400 anime titles, which it says is the biggest anime lineup among non-anime-specific streaming platforms. Shows on Hulu include “Naruto Shippuden,” “Boruto: Naruto Next Generations,” “One-Punch Man,” “Sailor Moon” and “Sword Art Online.”

It’s worth noting that Netflix has been boosting its portfolio of anime originals and recently ordered a live-action version of anime classic “Cowboy Bebop.”

Anime has continued to be a strong content category for Hulu, serving to both attract and retain subscribers. “There’s an assumption that anime is a niche category but we see that it’s growing, and there’s crossover between anime fans and other genres,” Holme said.

In addition to its anime lineup, Hulu offers thousands of episodes of premium animated content. In the U.S., it’s the exclusive subscription streaming home to shows including “Bob’s Burgers,” “Family Guy,” “American Dad!,” “South Park,” “Rick and Morty,” “Robot Chicken” and “Adventure Time.”

Meanwhile, Hulu is on the cusp of becoming majority-controlled by Disney, under the Mouse House’s deal to buy 20th Century Fox which includes Fox’s 30% stake in Hulu. Disney’s deal for Fox assets is expected to close in the first half of 2019.

Founded in 1994, Funimation also acquires and distributes anime and live-action movies in North America. Its next theatrical release is “Dragon Ball Super: Broly,” slated to hit theaters Jan. 16, 2019, in the U.S. and Canada.

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