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Is the Day-and-Date Release of ‘The Interview’ a Success? That Depends.

Is the Day-and-Date Release of 'The Interview' a Success? That Depends.

Sony boasted yesterday that the R-rated comedy has generated $15 million in online sales since it first became available on December 24. The impressive number, the largest ever for a day-and-date release, dwarfed the estimated $2.8 million the film grossed from the 331 indie theaters that showed the film over the four-day weekend.

The Seth Rogen-James Franco comedy has been rented or purchased over 2 million times, making it the studio’s biggest online release of all time. Perhaps more significantly, it also marks the first time a studio has released VOD numbers. Though Sony obviously released the numbers in order to calm critics and assuage stockholders after the release of company information by hackers, they’ve also set an accidental precedent.

Unlike theatrical box office reporting, film distributors, cable companies and other video viewing platforms don’t report viewership in a uniform and transparent way, leaving filmmakers and the industry without benchmarks. The general exception to the rule is when a distributor wants to share its success stories, as was the case with Radius-TWC, which released “Snowpiercer” on VOD before its theatrical release and then shared the VOD numbers.

READ MORE: As “Snowpiercer” Hits VOD, the Industry’s Divided on Distribution’s Future

The online numbers for “The Interview” aren’t a huge surprise given the amount of publicity the controversial film received before its unorthodox last-minute digital release after Sony had to pull the initial theatrical plan following threats from hackers. It’s also worth noting that the film cost an estimated $75-80 million to produce and market, so there’s no guarantee that Sony will recoup its hefty investment.

“Through Saturday, December 27, including all of its online distribution platforms, ‘The Interview’ has been rented or purchased online more than 2 million times,” Sony Pictures said in a statement. Those numbers don’t include Sunday, when Rogen and others held a live-tweet session to promote the film.

The movie was released online on December 24 via YouTube, Google Play, Xbox Video and a dedicated website —https://www.seetheinterview.com/. Yesterday, Apple also made the film available on its iTunes store at the same prices it is available elsewhere– $5.99 to rent for 48 hours and $14.99 to purchase.

But unlike previous VOD success stories such as “Snowpiercer” and “Margin Call,” “The Interview” was not released on the full spectrum of VOD platforms, including cable VOD and iTunes (until 12/28).

According to Torrent Freak, “The Interview” was also the most-pirated movie of the week. Within 20 hours of being made available online, the movie was downloaded illegally more than 750,000 times, passing the 1.5 million mark after only two days.

Given that the film generated $17.8 million total in both online sales and theatrical sales, the number isn’t so impressive – especially once you compare it to Rogen and Franco’s last comedy, “This is the End,” which grossed $21 million on opening weekend, and Rogen’s last comedy, “Neighbors,” which grossed $49 million. Also, had the film opened in the 2,000-3,000 theaters it was originally scheduled to screen in, it, no doubt, would have made millions more.

It’s a unique situation, since normally Sony wouldn’t release a big-budget film digitally while it’s available in theaters. Similarly, independently owned movie theaters wouldn’t normally screen a Rogen and Franco comedy. So far, mainstream exhibitors refuse to carry films that premiere day-and-date, saying that it’s a direct hit on theatrical exhibition revenue.

Sony hasn’t disclosed details of its deals with online distributors, but the inadvertent distribution experiment is pushing the bounds of the movie-viewing experience. Forged out of desperation, Sony’s innovative release strategy will, no doubt, prompt other studios to consider the digital possibilities — even if it’s unlikely this particular situation will be replicated any time soon. Let’s hope this at least opens the doors to more VOD numbers being shared.

READ MORE: How Would the Indie Film Community Handle “The Interview” Fiasco?

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