Why Not Release The Interview Online?

by Dish Staff

James Poniewozik wants the film made available on demand – now:

Maybe Sony is waiting to see if it can put the film in theaters later; maybe it’s afraid of further cyber repercussions. But if this is an issue of principle, then act like it. Americans have broadband, big-screen TVs, and plenty of free time around Christmas. Give us the chance to make our own statement, if we so choose, to show that we don’t want bullies squelching our expression.

Artists and audiences lost an unprecedented battle here. But we can still win the war, even if we have to do it in our living rooms.

Aisha Harris agrees:

People started floating this idea more than a week ago, but it has picked up momentum in the wake of the latest threats, with screenwriter Arash Amel and BuzzFeed’s Matthew Zeitlin both suggesting it on Twitter last night. On Wednesday morning The Verge made the case.

And they’re right: By releasing The Interview on demand, Sony will allow the public to view the film (or not) without the fear of any possible retaliation at a movie theater. And it will make clear to those behind the hacks and the threats that they cannot force censorship of this film. It may be a goofy comedy, but it is still expression, and Sony should stand behind its right to exist.

Walt Hickey notes that “nobody’s been willing to release a major, heavily advertised motion picture straight to  without hitting theaters first”:

The closest thing we have to data on VOD’s potential is “Snowpiercer,” the 2014 sci-fi movie/class parable that the Weinstein Co. made available for digital purchase two weeks after its theatrical release. The results were really interesting. The film made $3.8 million in its first two weeks on VOD, compared to $3.9 million over its first five weeks in theaters, according to Variety’s reporting.

That’s a data point, but it’s not enough to draw any conclusions. We don’t have multiple instances of studios seriously kicking the tires of VOD for major theatrical releases. And that’s the kind of data that — hypothetically, if VOD is really worth the hype — could potentially persuade studios to look into the distribution medium as their first avenue of release.

David Sims’ take:

[B]ecause of on-demand technology, The Interview could very well benefit, in a cruel and unusual sort of way, from all this bizarre publicity. Were the situation not so financially harmful and publicly embarrassing for Sony, it’d be easy to conspiratorially regard it as some kind of high-concept publicity stunt to convince us of The Interview’s political bravery.

Evie Nagy throws cold water on this plan:

Despite being an enormous entertainment corporation, Sony Pictures does not work alone in distribution, and this includes in VOD technology. Sony could upload the movie to the web on its own—but in order to get The Interview onto your connected TV, Roku, Xbox, or other streaming-enabled device, Sony has to work with partners who own the technology and platforms. The one platform they do own—PlayStation—does not have a large enough user base to get the film to the masses.

The risk to those partners with this particular film is, of course, becoming the target of a new cyber attack. And despite the cutting-edge aspect of being part of such a release, the payday likely wouldn’t be worth the risk: According to sources who work in the VOD space (who asked not to be identified by name), all seven major studios command very large royalties—in the 80% range—for the first two weeks after release. Sony could lower that rate for The Interview, but if they do that once, it’s possible that no one would ever pay them that much again.