The Interview has made $15 million from VOD sales, Sony has announced.
The comedy, which stars Seth Rogen and James Franco as journalists who are asked to assassinate Kim Jong Un, was going to be released on Christmas Day, but the plans were cancelled after hackers linked to North Korea threatened to attack cinemas showing the film.
After President Obama criticised Sony’s cancellation, the studio decided to release the film in a limited number of independent cinemas, as well as on VOD through YouTube, Google Play and Xbox Video.
The result is Sony’s biggest online film of all time, earning Sony $15 million from VOD sales – higher than the $2.8 million taken by 331 cinemas over the four-day holiday weekend. The Interview has been rented or downloaded more than 2 million times so far, making it the biggest day-and-date release of a film ever.
An unprecedented moment
The figures mark an unprecedented VOD release for a major Hollywood studio – but also an unprecedented decision by the company to actually release the numbers, which are normally a closely guarded secret.
Indeed, the only other day-and-date digital release to make its results public so far is A Field in England, which was released in UK cinemas, on DVD, on VOD and on Freeview TV all on the same day in 2013.
Ben Wheatley’s horror movie made £21,399 from a limited run of 17 UK cinemas, while the movie was downloaded or rented a total of 6,723 times. The majority of these came from iTunes (3,133 rentals, 680 purchases), ahead of 1,746 rentals through Virgin Media and 714 through Film4oD.
The Interview: VOD breakdown
The Interview was a far bigger success, with over 2 million downloads or rentals and $15 million generated in sales.
The success is hard to compare to any other VOD release, though, thanks to the high level of publicity generated by the terror threats and Sony hacking. Rory Bruer, Sony’s president of worldwide distribution, admits it is “certainly unchartered territory”.
The nearest to The Interview’s scale of release is the Veronica Mars movie, which was the first big studio day-and-date release earlier this year. Warner Bros. has still not confirmed how much the film made online, although the feature spin-off from the TV series came with a significant fan base already built in. The movie earned $1.98 million on its debut weekend in US cinemas, reports Forbes, taking an average of $6,833 per screen. The Interview, on the other hand, was far higher profile, earning $2.8 million and an average of $8,459 per screen, despite being shown only in indie theatres.
“I’m so grateful that the movie found its way into theatres,” Rogen said in a statement, “and I’m thrilled that people actually went out and saw it. The fact that people actually left their houses when they had the option of staying home is amazing.”
At home, the most popular VOD platform to watch The Interview was YouTube and Google Play, sources told The Hollywood Reporter.
While A Field in England was not released on YouTube in the UK, making a point of comparison again impossible, the UK VOD release proved that iTunes is particularly popular. It is no surprise, then, to hear that Sony has now also released The Interview on iTunes in the US. (The prices remain the same: $5.99 for a rental and $14.99 for a download.)
A success for piracy?
According to TorrentFreak, The Interview has also been popular among pirates online, with 750,000 illegal downloads of the film within 20 hours of its initial release. After two days, that total increased to an estimated 1.5 million.
At $6 per online rental, the pirated copies could equate to $9 million in lost revenue for Sony’s movie. Nonetheless, the digital release has made almost double that so far through legal downloads, with the 2 million total sales showing that the majority of people are willing to pay for a movie made available digitally on the same day as theatrical release.
Indeed, availability appeared to be the biggest driver of piracy, with The Interview only released online in America – and not worldwide.
“Just signed up to say Thanks, since it was not released outside of US when it should be all at the same time. Will now be finally able to watch this,” one downloader is quoted by TorrentFreak as saying.
How much would The Interview had made if it were released internationally day-and-date? And how much can these figures be applied to a normal release scenario?
Either way, with a third of the reported $44 million budget made back through online sales, Sony’s decision to go digital is undoubtedly a big step towards VOD as a potential future strategy (in whatever form) for Hollywood.