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Amid Sale Talk, Crunchyroll Shows How Niche Services Can Take Care Of Best Fans

AT&T may be considering selling Crunchyroll, but that’s not keeping the anime-focused streaming service from showing how niche operations can super-serve hard-core fans by giving them more of what they want, while making money doing it.

The company is launching two new tiers of service, with the high-end “Ultimate Fan” offering costing $15 a month, the same price as HBO Max, that other streaming service that WarnerMedia also offers, and on which some Crunchyroll content appears. It’s also a couple of bucks more a month than the most popular Netflix package, and three dollars more than the Disney+-ESPN+-Hulu bundle.

But the point here is that Crunchyroll has thrived as a niche service instead of a big, fat, omnibus offering like corporate cousin HBO Max.

The two new tiers are exactly what niche services should be doing: give your best customers even more of what they like. Crunchyroll already has accreted 3 million paying subs on its basic “Fan” tier. It also has a free, ad-supported service watched by millions more. Now comes time to convert more of those consumers into “whales,” or at least paying subs getting even more value.

Crunchyroll’s existing $8-a-month subscription tier, “Fan,” offers 30,000 episodes drawn from 1,000 series in the service’s library, on a single stream, and simulcasts of series as they debut in Japan. Popular shows include Dragon Ball Super, One Piece, Black Clover, and Boruto: Naruto Next Generations.

The new “Mega Fan” service will cost $10 a month, and will add offline viewing and access to four concurrent streams. It also will provide deals in the Crunchyroll merchandise store.

The “Ultimate Fan” offering will cost $15 a month. For that, viewers will get six concurrent streams, an annual “swag bag” of merchandise, and members-only access to even more merchandise. Viewing is ad free for that tier.

Yes, many of the functions on offer in the new tiers are already available on Netflix and some other major services. But giving your best fans the best possible experience and more, more, more of what they love is just about always a good idea.

As for why even an “Ultimate Fan” would need six concurrent streams, I’m going to throw in some random speculation that this is, in part, a way for Crunchyroll to persuade groups of non-paying fans to pony up cash for a shared-password feed. Once they’re in the door, you have a better chance of further up-conversion.

Crunchyroll’s free tier will continue operating, too, across a wide array of services and platforms. Viewers there get access to new shows one week after they debut on the paid service. Being omnipresent in the real estate wars being fought now in streaming is important too.

Meanwhile, all this is happening despite the clouds of a potential sale.

AT&T, which acquired CrunchyRoll when it bought what is now WarnerMedia in 2018, is reportedly trying to sell the service for as much as $1.5 billion as it tries to reduce its mammoth $153 billion debt load (the company’s market capitalization today was only $213 billion). Talks reportedly have been held with Sony, which already owns the Funimation anime service and knows a bit about taking care of devoted Japanese media fans.

More generally, anime is a hot category for even the omnibus streaming services, appearing on Netflix, Amazon Prime and others. Netflix has its own significant anime library, and output deals with several of Japan’s top animation studios. And HBO Max features not only Crunchyroll content, but the films of Studio Ghibli, including the Oscar-winning work of auteur director Hayao Miyazaki.

The new service tiers are rolling out beginning today but aren’t expected to be fully available until early September. Whatever happens with that AT&T sale process, Crunchyroll is doing the absolute right thing for its fans and itself, giving them more of what they want, for a reasonable additional price. It’s a lesson for every company blessed to have super fans.