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‘Twas the Night Before ‘The Interview’: Sony Adds VOD to 300 Christmas Theaters UPDATE

'Twas the Night Before 'The Interview': Sony Adds VOD to 300 Christmas Theaters UPDATE

They’re turning to social media rather than early ad deadlines. Thus many exhibitors, working with limited holiday home office staff, had finalized “The Interview”  bookings by early Monday. Among the late added runs in Manhattan is downtown Cinema Village, where advance tickets are on sale on their website. How did they get it? Their booker contacted Sony, asked for it, and got it. Sony’s adding theaters all the time. 

“We have never given up on releasing ‘The Interview’ and we’re excited our movie will be in a number of theaters on Christmas Day,” stated Sony Entertainment CEO Michael Lynton. “At the same time, we are continuing our efforts to secure more platforms and more theaters so that this movie reaches the largest possible audience.”

Now Sony is in talks with YouTube to release the film–non-exclusively. Owner Google is known for being essentially hack-proof.  UPDATE: “The Interview” also will become available Christmas mid-day on four Video on Demand sites – Sony’s own website, YouTube, Google Play and XBox video, the studio has just announced. The price will be $5.99, below what theaters charge for single admission, with of course, multiple viewings possible with each home viewing purchase. Netflix is also in the discussion. 

On the surface, following a move by Art House Convergence to line up some 250 theaters willing to play “The Interview,” the published list of theaters Sony has booked thus far looks like an oddball hodgepodge of first-run dates. Though what has been revealed is likely far from complete, most theaters are local independents (not as wide a breed as existed in previous decades). Bigger chains are rare, led by mid-size Alamo Drafthouse Cinemas (CEO Tim League played a major role in getting Sony to push the button after President Obama called theaters out for refusing to release the film).

On the West Coast, Regency is listed along with at least nine Southern California locations (Los Angeles proper also boasts the Loz Feliz 3, The Egyptian, Cinefamily, and the Crest Westwood.. Los Angeles’ Laemmle Theatres will screen “The Interview” at one venue on December 31. Michael Moore’s Bijou Theatre added extra late showings to play the film–“Into the Woods” was booked. (National Organization of Theater Owners spokesman John Fithian initially resisted the Arthouse Convergence move, but came around.)

Some of the theaters that usually play specialty films wondered if “The Interview” was appropriate for their upscale audiences. “There’s a potential for arthouse theaters to get new audiences because of this,” says San Francisco exhibitor Gary Meyer, who reports that the San Francisco’s Roxy couldn’t book the film because it lacks a digital projector. 

The powerful Harkins chain in Arizona is on board. Major cities not at this point mentioned include Chicago, San Francisco, Detroit, Philadelphia, Seattle and Miami among many others.

Many theaters in large shopping malls won’t book the film, and free-standing single-screen theaters (once common, now nearly unheard of) are more willing to play this because of security concerns. The multiplexes playing “The Interview” tend not to be located at major shopping malls where neighboring businesses would be unhappy about potential customers shying away from patronizing them.

The real commonality among these theaters is they are willing to book films that are imminently headed for Video on Demand availability on cable or other online sites. They’re many of the same theaters that booked Weinstein’s VOD experiment “Snowpiercer,” that went straight to VOD after two weeks in theaters. 

Many of these movie houses are delighted to get an unexpected Christmas present of a first-run film with exclusivity and significant viewer interest that could at least initially throw off a larger gross than they would ordinarily see.

Sony couldn’t book its own Crackle because it’s free.  They still have an obligation to their financial partners to attempt to recoup some of their costs. Sony reportedly plans to have the movie play on video-on-demand beginning on Dec. 25.Sony seems to have figured out what every studio has been eager to test: putting a potential hit on VOD at the height of its interest. This time they have the perfect excuse: blame North Korea or the theaters too timid to play the film. 

This is a fast-moving story with likely shifts and surprises yet to come. But Sony might still come out of this ahead, both cutting their losses and breaking new ground for showing their films, which would have been unthinkable before last week’s threat of attacks on theaters playing the film. 

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