How ‘The Interview’ controversy could change the money-making game

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By Lindsey Bahr, AP

LOS ANGELES–Sony appears to have a win-win with ��The Interview.�� Not only did the studio score a moral victory by releasing the film in the face of hacker threats, the movie made at least US$15 million from more than 2 million digital rentals and purchases in its first four days.

On Friday, it seemed unlikely we’d ever know if the simultaneous �X or ��day and date�� �X strategy paid off. Now, it’s tempting to suggest this may be the start of a brave new world of distribution. Add in the US$2.8 million from ��The Interview’s�� limited theatrical release and things aren’t looking so bleak for the Seth Rogen-James Franco R-rated comedy.

But the story is far from over and many are divided about its outcome. For some, ��The Interview’s�� video-on-demand (VOD) revenue signals a revolution.

��It’s a huge number and it’s one that is probably making the other studios salivate,�� said Jeff Bock, a senior box office analyst for Exhibitor Relations. ��Now there is something to put on the bulletin board that says, ‘Yes, VOD is definitely a viable option.��’

But one might also post on the bulletin board that it’s standard industry practice not to release VOD figures. That’s why the public only hears about them when they’re good. For instance, 2011’s ��Bridesmaids,�� which had already been released theatrically, made US$24 million from VOD in four months, allowing Universal to declare it the most popular VOD release of all time. But how many VOD bombs have there been?

Also, if Sony hadn’t been hacked and this film wasn’t pushed to the center of a national conversation, it could have easily made US$20 million to US$25 million on opening weekend �X not unlike ��Pineapple Express,�� a similarly raunchy R-rated comedy starring Rogen and Franco. This would have come far closer to paying off ��The Interview’s�� US$40 million production budget and roughly US$10 million marketing cost.