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The 5 ways Sony could still release ‘The Interview’
VOD or streaming? Let us rank the ways.
The company’s CEO, Michael Lynton, made this clear over the weekend, stating that while Sony “cannot determine whether or not a movie will be played in movie theaters,” the company is adamant that it has “always had every desire for the American public to see this movie.” This, of course, throws the whole controversy into a new light, following Sony’s initial cancellation of the The Interview’s Christmas release, which prompted severe criticism from basically everyone. Even the president said he thought canceling the movie’s release was the wrong move.
However, despite Lynton’s insistence that you will be able to see The Interview eventually, the question of how The Interview will be released remains unanswered. With that in mind, let’s consider the various ways Sony could handle the film from here on out, ranked from worst to best.
5) Do nothing.
Since this is why Sony has received so much criticism in the first place, nothing is probably the worst thing they could do at this point. It seems likely that the film is going to leak online anyway, so it would be hard to understand why they would just sit on it further, as if to accept defeat.
Granted, since at this point, Sony does appear to be exploring various alternative methods of distribution, “doing nothing” almost surely won’t be their course of action. But it’s important to keep in mind how much their initial statement indicating that they had “no further release plans” for The Interview hurt the studio’s reputation, and this is just about the only way it could get even worse.
4) Put it out on Blu-Ray/DVD.
On paper, this isn’t such a bad idea. Sony would escape the fears they had about putting the movie out in theaters, people who want to see the movie would get to see it, and since The Interview would’ve eventually arrived on Blu-Ray/DVD anyway, they’d basically just be moving up the timeline a little.
Except that as Sony already knows too well, no one is buying Blu-Rays anymore, much less DVDs. With the rise of streaming, the physical purchase of movies is increasingly becoming of a luxury. And the reality is that unless you’re a huge cinephile, looking to expand your collection, the average person isn’t going to want to go through the hassle of spending their money on something there’s a good chance they’ll only watch once.
This is the other problem with putting The Interview out on Blu-Ray/DVD: That would mean that people would want to own it forever, when despite whatever cultural importance it may have, the movie may not even be that good (if early reviews are any indicator, that is).
That isn’t to say that the film shouldn’t get a physical release at some point. As long as there are movie lovers out there, or just huge fans of James Franco and Seth Rogen, there definitely is some money to be made from releasing The Interview on Blu-Ray/DVD. But as would’ve been the case if the movie had come out in theaters, that can always happen down the road, but for it to be the only way Sony releases the movie would be ludicrous.
Besides, we all know that direct-to-DVD is for terrible sequels anyway.
3) Release it in theaters.
Now we’re getting somewhere.
Since Sony had The Interview slated for a major Christmas release before the whole hacking scandal anyway, there is something to be said for still giving it a go at a later date. It stands to reason that anyone who was going to see it originally would be guaranteed to show up now, not to mention a number of people who would attend the movie simply because of all the controversy, or even because they see it as a defiant rebuke of North Korea (which might be a stretch, but still). This was a major studio comedy, after all, and were it not for its risque subject matter, there’s no chance that a Rogen-Franco vehicle like this wouldn’t be getting a theatrical release.
Of course, the studio would probably stand to make more money from ticket sales (assuming ticket sales are good) than sales on any other platform. On a base level, it just makes sense that Sony would still want this movie in theaters.
Then again, with The Interview, everything has changed. Sony has almost gone too far now to go back to thinking of this movie in terms of regular distribution. It seems almost impossible for the 9/11-inspired attacks hackers “Guardians of Peace” threatened to actually be perpetrated on a wide scale throughout American movie theaters, but if Sony was concerned about people’s safety in the first place, why would they be any less concerned now?
Granted, it was never really Sony that had to worry about safety as much as theater chains did. However, this just brings us back to square one, since it was theaters dropping out that got the ball rolling for Sony to cancel The Interviewer‘s release in the first place. While Sony might be ready to take a stand, there’s nothing to indicate the position of America’s theater owners is about to change, at least not anytime soon.
This brings us to the next issue with a theatrical release: time. The longer Sony waits to release The Interview in theaters, the less people will care about it. Will the Guardians of Peace and North Korea be less concerned with The Interview several months from now than they are at the moment? Maybe. Without a doubt, a message has already been sent. But the larger issue is that if Sony wants to capitalize on the movie’s now notorious reputation, they’re going to want to put it out sooner rather than later. Call it patriotism, or a cheap trick to get people to see their movie, but now is the time for Sony to release The Interview, not down the road.
After all this, one also has to keep in mind that even if The Interview is a great movie and seeing it in theaters is a fantastic experience, a theatrical release is still ridiculously expensive. Sony has gotten a lot of free press for The Interview by now, but if they do decide to put it in theaters down the road, they’ll have to start their whole ad campaign for the film up again. And then, if people really don’t go see the movie, they’ll not only be down money, they’ll be in a ridiculously embarrassing position, too.
Because if nothing else, Sony would be wise to consider their reputation. They already backed down from putting The Interview in theatres once. Frankly, flip-flopping on that could make them look like they’re just changing their minds from moment to moment, incapable of making a rational decision.
2) Make it available for streaming.
Reports broke earlier this week that Sony would be releasing The Interview on Crackle, although this now appears not to be the case. That said, this doesn’t entirely preclude The Interview from coming to a streaming service. The question is: Can Sony get as much or more out of a streaming-only release as they can from anything else? Crackle seems somewhat of an odd choice, if they were to go this route. On the one hand, Sony does own this minor streaming service, which generates revenue through ads. So there would be some precedent and money to be made. It might even make Crackle a household name.
However, a more logical choice, if they decide they want to sell the digital rights to the highest bidder, might be to go through Netflix. Not only is the company acquiring content left and right (they spent $2 million on each episode of The Blacklist, so clearly they have money to burn), the two companies already have a relationship, as Netflix currently has the rights to Sony’s animated films. It’s also worth noting that Netflix CEO Reed Hastings has expressed support for the film. And since they’ve already taken Adam Sandler off Sony’s hands, why not go a step further?
Moreover, if Netflix doesn’t stream The Interview, someone else will, making streaming a great solution all around. Nevertheless, we are talking about a $40 million investment on Sony’s part, which is why they need to explore every avenue possible.
1) Release it digitally/on VOD.
The reason Sony should release The Interview for digital download and through video on demand is simple: It doesn’t limit them from releasing it on other platforms. Releasing the film digitall still lets them negotiate the streaming rights and eventually put it out on Blu-Ray/DVD.
However, this way also allows people who want to see the movie sooner to do so, as while as adding an extra revenue stream for Sony. If they make it so that audiences can rent or buy The Interview at home, they’ll be able to make up for some of the loss of individual ticket sales, while leaving the potential for streaming open, too. And people are already spending more on digital downloads then they are on physical movie purchases, so again, the additional revenue they could get here just makes sense.
Sony was actually mulling this approach when theater chains began to drop out initially, although they’ve since said they’re having a hard time making it happen. But with Hollywood heavyweights advocating a VOD release, and the narrative around The Interview changing once again, finding a way to release the film on demand or through digital download is a progressive, smart solution, which still leaves other possibilities open for the movie’s future.
Ultimately though, the important thing to remember here is that Sony says they still want people to see The Interview, and with all the buzz surrounding the movie, there are bound to be a few people out there who want to oblige. Once more, the key is that the film comes out sooner rather than later. Right now, The Interview is the highest-rated movie on IMDb (thanks, 4Chan), and a national talking point. But you can bet it won’t stay that way forever.
Update: Sony announced this morning that the studio will be releasing the film on Christmas Day in limited release, as well as on VOD.
Photo via Sony/YouTube
Chris Osterndorf is an entertainment reporter and movie critic based in Los Angeles. He holds a degree in cinema from Chicago’s DePaul University. His work has appeared on the Daily Dot, Mic, the Script Lab, Salon, the Week, xoJane, and more.