By now we’re all familiar with the long tale of “The Interview,” the film at the center of weeks of turmoil for Sony Pictures. Originally shelved after threats against movie theatres showing the movie on Christmas day, Sony reversed their decision, allowing the show to go on at many theaters across the country, though the major theater chains did not walk back their own decisions not to show it. But while the showing of the Interview in theaters on Christmas day was more a symbolic gesture, Sony also made the film available online, where it’s done quite well.
As if the Interview wasn’t already controversial enough, sending waves through both the political world and the technology industry, the film could have a big impact on the entertainment business as well. Box office expectations for The Interview are obviously limited, with the largest movie theater companies opting not to screen the film. However, online streaming platforms from Google, Microsoft, Sony, and Apple give us new venues through which we can evaluate the movie’s performance from the business perspective. According to Sony, The Interview has been streamed over 2 million times, generating over $15 million in revenue, soundly beating the film’s haul in theaters. It’s also worth noting that when a movie is shown in theaters, the studio only reaps a fraction of the actual profits, with the theaters and distributors of the film taking the lion’s share. While we don’t know the exact details of Sony’s agreements with Microsoft, Google, and Apple, without the overhead costs of operating a cinema, it’s pretty likely that Sony is getting a bigger cut of the online revenue.
While it was a set of very unusual circumstances that led to The Interview’s simultaneous release in theaters and online, it has raised some interesting questions for the movie business. Online streaming is mainstream now, and it’s likely that all the movie studios are starting to wonder if their own films could both perform better and see more of the proceeds returned to the studio if streamed online. If the better business decision ends up being to stream movies online alongside theatrical releases, we could see the practice become a lot more common.