Crunchyroll, Fuji TV Partner to Develop and Produce New Series

Global anime brand Crunchyroll and Japanese television network Fuji TV are partnering to develop and produce new series. The titles will be broadcast in Japan on Fuji TV’s +Ultra programming block and streamed on Crunchyroll in more than 200 countries and territories.

Under the partnership, Crunchyroll will work with Fuji TV and creative company Slow Curve to co-develop and co-produce a slate of series beginning in April 2022. The upcoming lineup includes “Estab-Life,” an original title by producer and director Goro Taniguchi (“Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion”) and a new project by popular manga artist Tsutomu Nihei (“Aposimz,” “Knight of Sidonia,” “BLAME!”) and Polygon Pictures.

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Crunchyroll will exclusively stream each series day and date with the premiere on +Ultra, Fuji TV’s midnight anime block that launched in October 2018 for viewers in Japan. The series will be streamed on Crunchyroll to the brand’s global community of more than 5 million subscribers and more than 120 million registered users. Crunchyroll will also manage the licensing and consumer products rights for each title worldwide outside of Asia.

Fuji TV and Crunchyroll are currently collaborating on “Muv-Luv Alternative,” an anime based on a hit game. This series will examine how humanity lives and dies on the brink of extinction. Starting in October, Fuji TV’s +Ultra block will air the series and Crunchyroll will exclusively stream the series worldwide outside of Asia.

Slow Curve is an integrated creative company that has been involved with the content planning and promotion of various popular anime series. The company will work with Fuji TV and Crunchyroll to create anime for global fans.

Sony Completes Acquisition of Crunchyroll

Sony Pictures Entertainment has completed its acquisition of AT&T’s Crunchyroll anime business through Funimation Global Group.

Funimation is a joint venture between SPE and Sony Music Entertainment (Japan)’s subsidiary Aniplex.

The agreement was first announced in December 2020.

Crunchyroll has a direct-to-consumer anime service with 5 million SVOD subscribers. It serves 120 million registered users across more than 200 countries and territories, offering AVOD, mobile games, manga, events merchandise and distribution.

The deal provides the opportunity for Crunchyroll and Funimation to broaden distribution for their content partners and expand fan-centric offerings for consumers, according to the joint announcement from SPE and AT&T.

“We are very excited to welcome Crunchyroll to the Sony Group,” Kenichiro Yoshida, chairman, president and CEO of Sony Group Corp., said in a statement. “Anime is a rapidly growing medium that enthralls and inspires emotion among audiences around the globe. The alignment of Crunchyroll and Funimation will enable us to get even closer to the creators and fans who are the heart of the anime community. We look forward to delivering even more outstanding entertainment that fills the world with emotion through anime.”

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“Crunchyroll adds tremendous value to Sony’s existing anime businesses, including Funimation and our terrific partners at Aniplex and Sony Music Entertainment Japan,” said Tony Vinciquerra, chairman and CEO of Sony Pictures Entertainment. “With Crunchyroll and Funimation, we are committed to creating the ultimate anime experience for fans and presenting a unique opportunity for our key partners, publishers, and the immensely talented creators to continue to deliver their masterful content to audiences around the world. With the addition of Crunchyroll, we have an unprecedented opportunity to serve anime fans like never before and deliver the anime experience across any platform they choose, from theatrical, events, home entertainment, games, streaming, linear TV — everywhere and every way fans want to experience their anime. Our goal is to create a unified anime subscription experience as soon as possible.”

The purchase price for the transaction is $1.175 billion, subject to customary working capital and other adjustments, and the proceeds were paid in cash at closing, according to the announcement. AT&T expects to use the proceeds from this transaction to help support its debt reduction efforts.

Crunchyroll to Develop ‘Dark Star Squadron’ With Zoe Saldana’s Cinestar

Anime streamer Crunchyroll is developing “Dark Star Squadron,” an epic animated space opera, in partnership with Zoe Saldana’s Cinestar Pictures.

Todd Ludy (“Voltron: Legendary Defender”) will write with Zoe Saldana, Cisely Saldana and Mariel Saldana of Cinestar Pictures serving as executive producers. Sonia A. Gambaro and Maytal Gilboa from Pollinate Entertainment are also producing.

“Dark Star Squadron” follows the journey of four failing cadets who return from a joyride with a stolen starship to find their academy in ruins and everyone vanished. Now on their own, the ill-equipped heroes embark for the far side of the galaxy to find the missing and prove their worth.

“As true animation and anime fans ourselves, we are so excited for the opportunity to partner with Crunchyroll to bring ‘Dark Star Squadron’ to a wide audience,” Cinestar’s Zoe, Cisely and Mariel Saldana said in a statement. “We can’t wait for everyone to meet the crew and follow the journey of our unlikely heroes.”

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“We’re elated to be working with such a talented creative team on the development of ‘Dark Star Squadron,’ a new fantasy adventure series,” Sarah Victor, head of development at Crunchyroll, said in a statement. “We love working with creators who are passionate about telling stories through anime and we can’t wait to bring this interstellar epic to fans across the galaxy.”

“The tremendous growth of our streaming service is indicative of the growing love for anime and its deserved spotlight in popular culture,” Joanne Waage, GM of Crunchyroll, said in a statement. “Zoe and her team are bringing their own anime fandom to their storytelling and we’re excited to be a part of it.”

Crunchyroll offers an anime library of more than 1,000 titles and 30,000 episodes in more than 200 countries and territories. The global brand has more than 5 million subscribers, 120 million registered users and more than 60 million followers across social media. A streaming service delivering AVOD and SVOD content, Crunchyroll also provides social, events, games, consumer products, content distribution, content creation and manga publishing.

Crunchyroll Unveils Updated Streaming Features

Anime streaming service Crunchyroll is unveiling a new beta experience for Crunchyroll Premium users in the United States.

Crunchyroll Beta includes the launch of the new Crunchylists feature alongside an updated home page, redesigned browse and watch pages, new search capabilities and a mobile responsive experience.

Within Crunchyroll Beta, the Crunchyroll home page has a new user interface, allowing users access to personalized recommendations and the ability to navigate easily to their watchlist or to specific show or episode pages, which have all been redesigned. Crunchyroll Beta also offers users improved search and filtering so that they can more easily access simulcasts, new and popular anime, and explore different genres, while filtering between subtitled or dubbed anime series. In addition to the new search bar, Crunchyroll will continue to offer curated collections, handpicked by Crunchyroll’s anime experts.

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Users also now have the ability to create unique user names and select from a curated library of avatars and header images featuring different series.

The Crunchylists feature allows users to create a curated collection of their own. Users can add a title to their unique Crunchylist creations, add any series or select episodes from Crunchyroll’s extensive collection of more than 1,000 series, and organize their Crunchylist however they choose.

To experience Crunchyroll Beta, eligible Crunchyroll Premium users can opt-in through the header images or pop ups that appear across the Crunchyroll website. Currently, Crunchyroll Beta is only available to 20% of premium users, but it will eventually become available to all premium subscribers and all free users in the United States. Users can opt in and out of the beta experience to Crunchyroll Classic as they would like and can share feedback in the “Leave Feedback” function under their profile header.

Crunchyroll is available in more than 200 countries and territories, with translation in eight languages. Users can watch anime for free with ads or can choose from three different subscription memberships that allow for ad-free viewing, access to popular simulcast titles day and date with premiere in Japan, offline viewing, and a mix of additional benefits.

HBO Max Panelist: ‘Wonder Woman 1984’ Broke All Records

The Christmas day release of Wonder Woman 1984 was a boon for the HBO Max subscription streaming service, according to WarnerMedia’s Sarah Lyons, EVP of direct-to-consumer global product management for HBO Max.

Wonder Woman 1984 broke all records that we had internally from both a projection and a prior-viewing standpoint,” Lyons said on a Feb. 8 virtual panel during Digital Entertainment World. “We feel that that momentum is only going to continue.”

WarnerMedia’s strategy to release first-run movies, such as Wonder Woman 1984, directly onto its streaming service concurrently with a theatrical release is designed to give consumers choice, she said.

“With this slate of films, there are some consumers that still want to go out to the theater and enjoy it in the theater and have that great theatrical experience that we all know and love, and then there are other consumers that are stuck at home, and so we want to give our customers the ability to have a choice whether to view it at home on HBO Max or to go out to the theaters, and that strategy so far has resonated very well,” she said.

HBO Max will continue to grow subscribers, she said.

“We absolutely see the momentum as sustainable,” she said. “We grew more subs in 2020 with HBO Max than HBO did over all of the last 10 years. So that momentum is huge, and our subscribers are highly engaged.”

HBO Max’s mix of HBO, Warner Bros. and other content widens its appeal.

“We’ve expanded our target demographics beyond what just HBO just offered,” she said. “HBO typically caters to and had a base that was largely older and male dominated. The idea with HBO Max is that we add on content that is attractive to families with kids, to Gen Z, the millennials, kids … . Serving the needs of the entire family is really important to us.”

There is room for more than one player in the streaming market, she said. “We think consumers from our research will subscribe to between three and four platforms,” Lyons said.

Fresh off Super Bowl ads that touted the upcoming March 4 launch of Paramount+, which will incorporate the existing CBS All Access service, Rob Gelick, ViacomCBS EVP and GM of streaming services and chief product officer, said there’s a lot of room for new services, especially those that can differentiate.

“You see all of the IP coming together from the other big entrants, and I think that’s going to challenge who the big three really are, in addition to the fact that you’re going to just see a broader swath of adopted services per household,” he said.

That includes the pending Paramount+.

“We combine the best in live sports and breaking news and that mountain of entertainment,” he said, alluding to the Paramount mountain used in the commercials to symbolize the service’s entertainment heft.

“Users are going for destination television,” he said. “Even this past year as we added more and more original, exclusive series we saw 100% growth in subscribers streaming originals, almost nearly that in time spent, and that’s because we’re dropping big marquee franchises, like a whole number of series from the ‘Star Trek’ franchise, including ‘Discovery.’ This week is the final for another original, ‘Stephen King’s The Stand.’ We’ve announced for March 4 a ton of great kids programming, including ‘Kamp Koral,’ which is a new series in the ‘SpongeBob’ franchise.”

Streaming is most definitely the future, accelerated by the pandemic, said Joanne Waage, GM of the Crunchyroll service.

“We are seeing finally that big shift from cable to the streaming services,” she said. “I think what’s going to be interesting is how quickly cable tanks at this point. It’s already been declining significantly. At this stage, do you really need both?”

Niche players such as Crunchyroll, which specializes in anime and adult animation, have to constantly innovate to attract viewers, she said. The service, an AVOD to SVOD model, recently announced it has 100 million registered users and 4 million paying subscribers.

“Certainly, we are one of the very successful niche models,” Waage said. “The role of services like ours, a lot of it is to push the boundaries of the mediums that we are in. We win by catering to the passions of our audience and really delivering a depth of experience. That’s our goal.”

But Crunchyroll sees itself having a bigger role.

“We get categorized as niche,” she said. “I would say we are sort of breaking out of that as we look at our future. We see ourselves as the next DC or Marvel or Disney, in that we are pushing this type of medium to the next generation of fans and that’s really adult animation, bigger than anime, and there’s no bounds to that. So that becomes not niche.

“Netflix is nipping at our heels and HBO Max … and so we have to just continue to innovate.”

Helping consumers discover content to watch and personalizing content for subscribers is key, said panelists.

“We put just as much stake in our consumer experience, in our product experience, as we do the content,” Lyons said of HBO Max. “We know consumers when they make a decision about a streaming service, there’s so much great content out there that the experience is just as much a part of their decision. How they interact with that app, how they find content, making it easy to discover, personalizing that experience, tailoring it to them is of utmost importance to stand out in the marketplace.”

Gelick agreed  that it’s important to see that “the right people are discovering [content] at the right time” and make sure customers don’t leave when they finish a piece of content.

“One of the biggest things for us is that post-completion experience … . You come to the last episode that’s available. How do you keep people engaged? What you surface in that moment I would see as an art,” he said.

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Data as well as a human touch is the way to curate, Lyons said.

“We actually believe in a blend,” Lyons said. “Human curation is really important for us because we feel like we’re a service with a point of view. We’re just as passionate fans behind this app as any other fans out there. We use these services, too. And so we want to bring an element of that hand touch, human curated content that is relevant of the zeitgeist, that has a point of view, and then we blend that with underlying data to personalize those curations.… That’s where the sweet spot is, and that’s where we think we can create a great experience for our customers.”

ViacomCBS streaming services use data to identify groups of similar customers to serve them better.

“We have a way to break out what I would call viewing cohorts into really small actionable groups,” Gelick said. “As you start hitting scale, personalization at its core is so critically important, and so I think everybody has their own flavor of this.”

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In addition to data and human curation, Waage emphasized the importance of generating old-fashioned word of mouth through social media.

“I think data is amazing and curation through technology is amazing … but ultimately you might be presented the best show for you, and if you’ve not heard of it, you’re probably not going to watch it,” she noted.

Thus, finding a way to generate buzz is key.

“They’re going to hear about it through friends, and so social is incredibly important,” she said, adding, “There is a feeling that there is a real person on the other side of it saying you should check this out.”

Crunchyroll will often use social media to reignite interest in a title.

“If there’s a slow period, we will go on social and reinvigorate shows that have maybe been sleeping for awhile,” she said.

Sang Kim, SVP of product at Samsung Electronics, said the company has a bird’s eye view of consumer usage of services because they are part of the smart TV system. Partners can get insights into how to target their content from that data.

“With the data that we collect for example on TV you can find your specific audiences of sports lovers or drama or whatnot,” he said. “We have made this data accessible for our partners to use and find their audiences so it’s a very robust data set.”

“We do not provide the raw data outside of their own specific services, but we’ll democratize that and roll it up to high levels so you can find your audiences.”

Samsung has seen huge growth in AVOD, he said.

Citing research that shows AVOD in a quarter of U.S. broadband houses, Gelick noted that AVOD service Pluto TV is part of the ViacomCBS family.

“I run product for that group as well,” he said. “I think AVOD and where we see the SVOD business as going is a much, much more tightly aligned strategy.”

That strategy involves using the AVOD experience to move customers into SVOD or “using that as a top of the funnel driver for premium subscription streaming.”

HBO Max, too, is planning an AVOD product.

“We have announced that we are launching an ad supported option later this year,” Lyons said.

It’s designed “to have a cheaper price point for consumers so that you can reach a broader audience that may not be able to afford a premium service, and you have something for everyone,” she said.

Sony Looking to Further Bridge Anime, Movie, Video Game Markets

Sony is seeking to further meld anime, motion picture and video game markets through SVOD subsidiary Crunchyroll; a minority stake in Epic Games, publisher of the Fortnite game franchise; the PlayStation 5 game system; and other ventures.

Speaking on the Feb. 3 third-quarter fiscal call, CFO Hiroki Totoki said consumer interest in anime throughout Japan has increased 150% over the past five years, in addition to 19% worldwide year-over-year. Crunchyroll recently topped 90 million registered users and 4 million paid subscribers across more than 200 countries.

Indeed, anime movie sequel Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba the Movie: Mugen Train, entered 2021 as Japan’s biggest box office hit, with more than $346 million in ticket sales through Jan. 5.

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“When the markets are growing, we try to enter such market to create our growth,” Totoki said. “But according to our internal investigation, those game players, the users that enjoy games and animation, it seems that there’s high level of affinity between these two groups.”

Totoki expects to see increased cross-selling opportunities in anime and gaming going forward. Sony’s recent $250 million investment in Epic includes development of movies and music. Epic is set to release its first animated feature film, Gilgamesh, directed by Tomas Lipgot, whose Spanish-language film, The Adopters, was recently acquired by Sony Pictures Television.

“That’s a new kind of entertainment in music and motion pictures for gaming,” Totoki said. “Consumer interest in Japanese anime is increasing rapidly, particularly outside of Japan. And as a company that currently owns both content and DTC streaming service, we have positioned anime as a focus area.”

Separately, Sony said it remains on track to meet a fiscal-year sales goal of more than 7.6 million PS5 units (4.5 million cumulative units sold through December) — despite ongoing console shortages due to a lack of semiconductors. Sony is projecting 14.8 million PS5 unit sales through the next fiscal year.

Total PlayStation user game play in December was about 30% higher than the same month of the previous fiscal year, according to Sony. At the end of December, 87% of PS5 users were subscribers to PlayStation Plus, the subscription platform affording users free access to games, multiplayer gaming, PlayStation Store store, and 100GB of cloud storage, among other features.

First-party PS5 title Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales, recorded sales of 4.1 million units through December.

“We had more game software titles at the launch of the PS5 than at any previous PlayStation console launch in our history, and those titles have sold well,” Totoki said.

 

Crunchyroll Reaches 4M Subs, Inks Deal With Elbas for New Series

Anime SVOD distributor Crunchyroll Feb. 2 announced it reached the 4 million subscriber mark in January, just six months after hitting 3 million, and has inked a deal with Idris and Sabrina Elba to develop a dark fantasy animated series.

Idris and Sabrina Elba will serve as executive producers on “Dantai” (working title).

“For more than a decade, through anime and anime-inspired Originals, Crunchyroll has been leading the charge for the popularization of adult dramatic animation and we are fast becoming the epicenter for the next generation of animation fans, as is evidenced by our incredible growth in registered users and subscribers,” Crunchyroll GM Joanne Waage said in a statement. “Gens Y and Z have experienced superhero fatigue and are hungry for the new stories and ideas that our creators tell. This development deal with Sabrina and Idris Elba is another example of how we’re working with best-in-class partners to bring in new audiences and tell fresh and compelling stories through a medium that transcends genres and generations.”

Currently in development, the Afro-futuristic science-fiction series will be set in a city where the rise of biotechnology has created an ever-widening gap between the haves and have-nots. Two rising stars from either side of this divide are pitted against each other in a story that will ultimately explore equality and kinship within a corrupt society.

“We’re thrilled to be collaborating with Idris and Sabrina to develop this anime-inspired sci-fi epic,” Sarah Victor, head of development, Crunchyroll, said in a statement. “It is a privilege to work with such talented, creative partners and we look forward to bringing this exciting project to life.”

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“We’re really excited to be announcing this deal on our first anime,” the Elbas said in a statement. “We’re both fans of the genre and see a huge opportunity to create something unique for a powerhouse like Crunchyroll. The story of ‘Dantai’ is our first collaboration as producers together and is one that is close to our hearts.”

Crunchyroll, a WarnerMedia company, has a library of more than 1,000 titles and 30,000 episodes, available to fans in more than 200 countries and territories. Crunchyroll currently has more than 100 million registered users and more than 50 million followers across social media. Fans have access to licensed anime through Crunchyroll, Anime Digital Network (in partnership with Citel, a subsidiary of Média-Participations), and Anime on Demand video streaming services, translated in multiple languages for viewers worldwide. Viewers can also access simulcasts — series available immediately after Japanese broadcast. Crunchyroll’s services also extend to licensing of theatrical, TV, home video, consumer product and video game rights.

AT&T Sells Crunchyroll to Sony’s Funimation

AT&T has agreed to sell its Crunchyroll anime streaming service to Funimation Global Group for $1.175 billion.

Funimation is a joint venture between Sony Pictures Entertainment and Sony Music Entertainment’s (Japan) subsidiary, Aniplex Inc.

Crunchyroll is an anime direct-to-consumer service within AT&T’s WarnerMedia segment with more than 3 million SVOD subscribers. It serves 90 million registered users across more than 200 countries and territories offering AVOD, mobile games, manga, events merchandise and distribution.

The combination of Crunchyroll and Funimation provides the opportunity to broaden distribution for their content partners and expand fan-centric offerings for consumers, according to the AT&T-Sony joint release.

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“The Crunchyroll team has done an extraordinary job of not only growing the Crunchyroll brand but also building a passionate community of anime fans. Crunchyroll’s success is a direct result of the company’s culture and commitment to their fans,” Tony Goncalves, chief revenue officer of WarnerMedia, said in a statement. “By combining with Funimation, they will continue to nurture a global community and bring more anime to more people. I’m incredibly proud of the Crunchyroll team and what they have been able to accomplish in the digital media space in such a short period of time. They’ve created an end-to-end global ecosystem for this incredible art form.”

“We are proud to bring Crunchyroll into the Sony family,” Tony Vinciquerra, chairman and CEO of Sony Pictures Entertainment, said in a statement. “Through Funimation and our terrific partners at Aniplex and Sony Music Entertainment Japan, we have a deep understanding of this global artform and are well-positioned to deliver outstanding content to audiences around the world. Together with Crunchyroll, we will create the best possible experience for fans and greater opportunity for creators, producers and publishers in Japan and elsewhere. Funimation has been doing this for over 25 years and we look forward to continuing to leverage the power of creativity and technology to succeed in this rapidly growing segment of entertainment.”

“We are excited to embark on this new journey. Crunchyroll has built a world-class brand with a passionate fan-base of over 3 million subscribers, 50 million social followers and 90 million registered users. These amazing fans have helped to propel anime into a global phenomenon,” Joanne Waage, GM of Crunchyroll, said in a statement. “Combining the strength of the Crunchyroll brand and the expertise of our global team with Funimation is an exciting prospect and a win for the incredible art form of anime.”

The transaction is subject to customary closing conditions, including regulatory approvals.

Sony Eyeing AT&T’s Crunchyroll Anime SVOD Service in $957 Million Deal

Sony Corp. is reportedly finalizing a $957 million acquisition of AT&T’s Crunchyroll anime subscription streaming VOD service and IP content. AT&T is looking to sell non-core assets since it acquired Time Warner, including Warner Bros., HBO and Turner, accumulating more than $180 billion in debt in the process.

The deal’s status was first reported by Nikkei Asian Review, which cited sources familiar with the situation. AT&T, which gained Crunchyroll in its 2018 acquisition of Otter Media from The Chernin Group, had been asking $1.5 billion for the anime platform.

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Sony, which acquired Funimation and its one million subs in 2017, is looking to solidify control of the anime market. The Crunchyroll deal would bring in-house streaming, 1,000 anime titles, and an existing subscriber base of 70 million free ad-supported viewers and three million paid users globally.

AT&T Ups Effort to Sell DirecTV, Xandr and Crunchyroll

After years of acquisitions, AT&T is on a sales mode. The telecom’s on-again, off-again love affair with satellite pay-TV distribution appears to be off again. The company has reportedly hired a major investment banker to help unload DirecTV, which it acquired in 2015 for $48.5 billion just as online TV and subscription streaming video-on-demand was flourishing.

AT&T is also looking to offload anime-based streaming service/publisher Crunchyroll and Xandr, the online advertising unit launched just two years (following the $1.8 billion acquisition of AppNexus), but has struggled to gain traction due to a variety of issues in the rapidly changing digital ecosystem.

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With nearly $180 billion in debt following the $85 billion purchase of Time Warner (now WarnerMedia), AT&T has been looking to cut non-core assets. The debt is now down to $152 billion, and despite repeated denials from senior executives over the years, DirecTV appears to be on sales block.

The Wall Street Journal reports AT&T is working with Goldman Sachs to find a buyer willing to pay around $20 billion for 50% stake in the El Segundo, Calif.-based pay-TV operator. The sale is challenged by ongoing secular changes in home entertainment underscored by the loss of 7 million combined DirecTV/AT&T U-verse video subs in the past year.

As subscription streaming video-on-demand services such as Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and Hulu proliferate, AT&T has attempted to straddle traditional linear TV distribution with over-the-top video. The company has now moved much of its content distribution future into HBO Max, the $15 monthly SVOD platform, which plans to offer an ad-supported tier in 2021.

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“To the extent that we’re able to get those [pay-TV] customers engaged with us on those [streaming] platforms, then we’re in a good place, and we’re OK with that,” CEO John Stankey told CNBC in July. “And if that takes us down a path that says satellite delivery is less important, so be it.”

A possible merger with rival Dish Network is a favorite proposition for Dish founder/CEO Charlie Ergen, but some observers say the idea would trigger anti-trust issues from the government.

Xandr, which generated about $2 billion in revenue in 2019, had hoped to capitalize on the burgeoning digital ad market focusing on non-video displays. That strategy has apparently backfired as online video ads dominate and online TV publishers were reluctant to sell their ad inventory through Xandr due to AT&T’s competing HBO Max platform, The Journal reported, citing sources familiar with the situation.

Crunchyroll, which AT&T acquired in its purchase of Otter Media, is on the block for a reported $1.5 billion with interested suitors including Sony Corp.