The Interview rakes in $15 million in VOD downloads

The film was also pirated over a million times, though, after not being released internationally

Technology trends and news by Steven Loeb
December 29, 2014
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So, how many of you watched The Interview this Christmas? I rented it the day it was released on YouTube, hooked up my girlfriend's computer to her big TV using an HDMI cable and did my patrioric duty by sticking it to Kim Jung-un the best way I can: by watching an actor playing him cry and then crap his pants. It really swells your heart, doesn't it?

The movie itself was pretty good, but nothing amazing. We laughed and enjoyed it, but it's not going to  become a comedy classic or anything. The ironic thing about all of this is, of course, that if none of this happened three months from now probably nobody would even be talking  about the Interview.

Instead, the film set two pretty important records that may have a bigger effect on the industry than anticipated.

This weekend, Sony revealed that the movie had been downloaded over two million times, making $15 million in the process. That is a lot more than it made in its theatrical debut; the film, which was intitially pulled from theaters after online threats over its release, eventually made it's way to 300 movie screens across the country, where it made less than $3 million in the same time span. 

“After only four days, The Interview already ranks as Sony Pictures #1 online film of all time,” the company said in a press release.

Could the release, and success, of The Interview actually speed up what already seemed like an inevitable development, with more mainstream movies getting on demand releases to go along with limited theatrical releases?

This is a release strategy that studios have undertaken mostly with low-budget, independent films. The Interview was the highest budgeted film to be released this way, and if looked at through that lens it was a pretty big failure. By most estimates the film cost $75 million to both make and market. So far, Sony has recouped less than a quarter of that.

Given that no other movie released this way will have even a 10th of the buzz that the Interview had, and it still made less than it likely would have in a major theatrical release, it seems more likely that only movies with a more limited budget to recoup will get the same treatment.

The other thing that stands in the way of such a release: piracy. Within the first day of its release online, The Interview was downloaded 750,000 times in less than a day, and over 1.5 million times in around two days, according to TorrentFreak

This is partially the fault of either Sony or its distributors; whoever decided that the film would only be available for download in the United States. Isn't this the same industry that constantly berates the public for illegally downloading movies? So they've heard of torrenting, correct? With the huge amount of buzz the film was generating, the studio was practically begging people living abroad to download it.

Think about it this way: if those 1.5 million people had also rented or bought the film, that could have  brought its online total closer to $30 million, and then there would have been no qualifiers for its success whatsoever.

The lesson here is that online and VOD distribution is the future, but there is still a lot that studios and distributors have to learn about how this stuff really works. 

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