Crunchyroll plans events, originals as niche anime SVOD hits 1M subscriber mark

The growing subscriber count shows that "anime is really spilling over into the mainstream," said Crunchyroll COO Colin Decker.

Crunchyroll has joined a fairly elite club of direct-to-consumer SVOD services that have attracted a million or more subscribers.

The SVOD specializing in anime and manga now has 1 million paid subscribers and 20 million total users. The service said it has increased its paid subscriber base by 36% in the past 12 months. Of that million-subscriber total, Crunchyroll COO Colin Decker said that about three-quarters are in the U.S.

It’s a substantial number that puts Crunchyroll up there with SVODs like CBS All Access and HBO Now, which also count subscribers by the millions. And it seems even more significant since Crunchyroll serves a niche audience. But Decker said it shows growing interest in anime and manga.

“Our subscriber number isn’t that surprising to us. It’s a bigger indication that anime is really spilling over into the mainstream, as indicated by the size of those numbers and how they match against some pretty significant mass market players who aggregate and don’t focus on a niche,” Decker told FierceOnlineVideo.

Crunchyroll has been around since 2006 and in 2009 introduced a paid subscription tier. As of 2015, the service was still at around 20 million users but its paid users, subscribing to Crunchyroll’s $6.95 per month premium tier, totaled 750,000.

“We’ve been at this a long time. It takes a lot of patience, determination and a data-driven mindset to continually refine the offering and the relationship with the audience,” Decker said.

As Crunchyroll grows its paid subscriber base, some questions about the sustainability of that trajectory could arise given that competition like Amazon’s recently announced Anime Strike channel have entered the anime market.

Decker doesn’t seem overly concerned, saying that Crunchyroll is a name synonymous with anime outside of the U.S. and that Crunchyroll’s offering is more comprehensive than other options.

“It’s going to be very hard for one of the mass market players to replicate the kind of high touch that we bring to this audience,” Decker said.

Beyond the hours of content from Japan and the community forums that Crunchyroll offers its customers, the service is also broadening its reach in terms of events. Crunchyroll recently held its inaugural Anime Awards last year and let users vote for favorites among 14 categories. This year, the company announced that it will be holding its first Crunchyroll Convention, which will take place in August in Santa Clara, California. Decker said that soon Crunchyroll will be launching an event called Movie Night which will be held four times a year at 250 theaters nationwide and will feature films, season premieres for series and exclusive content.

Today, Crunchyroll creates original content for distribution across its social channels but Decker said that original content for the Crunchyroll platform is something the company is exploring and has already engaged in conversations about it.

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Though Crunchyroll’s success is a byproduct of the amount of time and effort put into growing the business, it’s likely that the company’s association with the well-funded Otter Media is another factor contributing to the service’s growth.

Otter Media is Crunchyroll’s majority investor. It's a video content joint venture between The Chernin Group and AT&T that committed $500 million toward investments in OTT content. In 2015, Otter Media invested another $22 million into Crunchyroll after acquiring a majority stake in the company in 2013.

Decker wasn’t able to offer too many details about Otter Media’s role within Crunchyroll but said that his company was “thrilled to bring Otter Media onboard” to help continue growth “particularly as it relates to subscriptions.”