The Interview Online Success Could Be a Proving Ground for Digital Releases

Consumer damand for The Interview grew loud after the Sony hack, and digital sales are greater than the box office revenue.

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Ever since the revelation that a huge cache of Sony data had been stolen by hackers, there has been a focus on North Korea as the alleged perpetrator. The issue has seen international action and the focus on the hack itself has been somewhat lost. However, a dominant trend about d the power of on-demand streaming services has emerged.

The FBI have officially stated that the government of North Korea was behind the “theft and destruction of data on the network of Sony Pictures Entertainment.” The U.S. has instituted sanctions on North Korea, and the evidence of the hack has been classified. Now only certain pieces of that evidence are available to those not in the FBI, so the hack itself could be difficult to analyze from here on.

What’s not difficult to see is how Sony was still able to release this movie, on time, via online streaming services. While The Interview, a Seth Rogen comedy about the assassination of North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un, did make it to more than 500 theatres, it made more money via digital distribution. According to figures compiled by the New York Times, consumers paid five times more for digital rental and download than they did for theater tickets.

This be a proving ground for earlier (or even simultaneous) VoD release, and demonstrate that theater distribution isn’t nearly as profitable as it once was, unless there’s a massive blockbuster involved. The growth of Netflix into more than 50 countries shows us how quickly a service can begin matching consumer needs, and it would be careless to ignore streaming as first-run distribution model.

If the revenue generated by The Interview on VoD services outstrips the box office, as happened recently with Snowpiercer, studios will have to start considering simultaneous release a lot more seriously.

UPDATE: As of January 6, 2015, The Interview has made more money through digital distribution than in theaters, according to Recode.