Last week, following a threat from the hackers that have ruined Sony’s year, the studio decided to pull The Interview off their release slate entirely. They cancelled its release and had no plans to show it, ever, despite a huge amount of criticism that peaked with President Obama calling them out during his year-end press conference. The White House has, in fact, undercut Sony’s entire message at this point—that they were the helpless victims of cyberterrorism—and it’s forcing Sony to reconsider their strategy, including allowing theaters to screen The Interview.
Sony’s initial intent to bury The Interview was about filing a total-loss insurance claim which would allow them to recoup their investment in the movie. But with public sentiment solidly against them, and pressure mounting to show the movie in some format, Sony has to act or else their position gets even worse. They’re not going to make money on The Interview at this point, but as I said in my post last week, they have a chance to send a strong message about their direction and leadership, which they have yet to do. At least in letting a limited number of theaters show The Interview, they’re beginning to take steps in the right direction.
So no, The Interview won’t be available across the country on Christmas day. The movie is getting a limited release, and it looks like only a handful of arthouse cinemas will be offering it, led by the Alamo Drafthouse chain. But that’s better than nothing, and it still leaves the door open for an on-demand release. The Hollywood Reporter cites a source that claims Sony will be releasing The Interview on demand as well, which would make the larger theater chains balk. To date, they have not been down with day-and-date releases of major titles.
Last week I mentioned premium VOD and someone asked me to clarify what that is. Imagine the next Marvel movie available in theaters and on your TV at the same time—that’s premium VOD. The National Association of Theater Owners hates this idea because they (rightly) assume that if movies are available like that, many people will choose to watch in the comfort of their own home. Premium VOD would be expensive, though. Right now, on demand movies are around $7-$10. A premium release would be more like $40-$50, which sounds like a lot but it’s on par with what a family of four spends at the movies.
Sony still hasn’t confirmed the VOD option, though. And I still don’t think there are on demand carriers willing to open their networks to Sony and risk being hacked and/or corrupted themselves. But Sony does own streaming service Crackle. They could drop The Interview on Crackle without involving a third party carrier. And it would give the industry a good metric to measure a potential premium VOD audience.
However, they still wouldn’t make any money because Crackle is a free service. But at least they could see how many people watch it and measure the audience. From there, they could extrapolate potential premium VOD profits. And if it looks profitable, if it looks like studios could make enough money to justify burning the NATO bridge, we may get to premium VOD releases a lot faster. But for now, the focus is on the relative victory of getting The Interview out at all. Whether or not it’s any good is up for audiences to decide, but at least they’ll get the chance to make up their own minds about it.