If you're tired of American "heroes" talking about how they achieved that status by watching The Interview and thereby sticking it to cyber-terrorists who attempted to block the film from being shown, we've got a different world-changing narrative for you: The Interview: movie distribution game-changer?
After Sony announced that the major theater chains (AMC, Carmike, Regal, etc.) had decided to not screen the controversial Seth Rogen-James Franco comedy for fear of potential endangerment of patrons, 331 independent theaters were able to screen the film. But, more importantly, Sony put the movie online concurrently with the independent theaters, for $6.99 at YouTube, Google Play, and on XBOX. Let's look at the triumphant online numbers (and strong independent theater numbers) that expose what NATO fears about giving people an option of where they watch (either at home or your local theater during the opening weekend). Despite all the political grandstanding about The Interview, NATO in this case, is not the North Atlantic Treaty Organizaiton, it's the National Association of Theater Owners.
The Interview has made close to $3 million at the box office, with a healthy $5,417 per screen average. At home, at cheaper prices and with communal and repeat viewing opportunities, The Interview made $15 million through Saturday. Before The Interview was pulled from theaters, it was tracking to make $20 million at the standard box office. With both viewing options (at a theater or at home), The Interview is close to that projection -- but it was seen by far more people than the $20 million box office figure would've allowed.
Sony announced that those numbers meant The Interview was downloaded more than 2 million times since it was put online on Tuesday, December 24. Combining the films box office and home viewing numbers, that $18 million haul would've put The Interview as the fifth highest grosser this busy Christmas week (behind the Night at the Museum sequel and ahead of Annie). However, given the unique circumstances of being able to watch at home, there isn't quantifiable data about how many people actually saw the film.
To put into perspective that huge $15 million number for home downloads: in five days, The Interview grossed more than the highest grossing video on demand releases made during their entire run as new releases (Arbitrage made a total of $14 million; Snowpiercer made $11 million, Bachelorette made $8 million). However, unlike those VOD hits, The Interview wasn't available for rent from two of the biggest digital distributors: DirecTV and iTunes. The Interview is now available on iTunes today (at $5.99).
Granted, The Interview isn't you're typical on demand release. It has huge stars, and a huge budget. It was also the most talked about movie of the year. Whether or not anyone saw it, due to the Sony hack, and the discussions of whether or not killing a currently existing dictator in a comedy is defendable free speech, everyone -- from gym rat bros to stuffy intellectuals -- was talking about it. And The Interview was also released during a long holiday with many people at home.
However, these numbers have to make theater chains nervous. The independent theaters got a healthy share of Hollywood dough. Sony came close to their projections, and stand to take a higher percentage gross percentage at the end of its run. Instead of threatening to block distributors like The Weinstein Company (because The Weinstein Company put Snowpiercer on-demand via their digital distributor, Radius, during the movie's opening theatrical weekend), NATO will have to figure out how they can adapt to the bigger picture. People will go out to the movies, but many would prefer to have the option to stay home and watch it.
But, before we call theaters dinosaurs, (we'll concede that people will likely flock to the cinemas for years to come for the big spectacle films) it's certainly worth noting that Sony will likely have a loss of millions on their hands for The Interview. Before marketing, the film cost $45 million to make. And while digital contracts generally give a flat percentage to the distributor (70%), compared to the sliding scale offered by theaters (generally starting at 70% for the first two weeks, then falling to 60 and 50% afterward) -- just like opening weekend at the box office, most people who were interested in The Interview have probably seen it now.
So, who's the biggest winner in all this? Probably Google. Many people who went to YouTube to download the movie probably weren't aware that YouTube was a hub for such a thing. Carrying The Interview marks another step in Google’s efforts to establish YouTube as an entertainment arena that features major movies, trailers, and music videos — not just your cousin's cute kitten clips. Google, like many intrigued viewers, said it is providing outlets for the movie because it wants to support free speech.
Sony, was also probably glad to extend the tech giant an olive branch after leaked emails exposed that the movie industry at large was attempting to promote an operation that made Google look like a bad guy -- for giving search results for illegally downloaded movies. Well, with The Interview Sony learned the same thing that many record labels have learned: if you drop the price, people will pay to download your product.