Sony may release The Interview online on Crackle, according to unnamed sources.
The rumour comes after President Obama criticised the studio for giving into the hackers that threatened violence against any cinemas showing the movie.
The comedy stars James Franco and Seth Rogen as two journalists who are given an audience with Kim Jong-un, only to be approached by the CIA to assassinate him – a subject that North Korea apparently took against enough to use hackers (calling themselves Guardians of Peace) to attack Sony, releasing more than 30,000 private emails and other documents online in November.
Since then, North Korea has denied accusations it was behind the attack, while Sony ultimately cancelled its planned Christmas Day theatrical release on 17th December.
On Friday, the FBI confirmed that North Korea was behind the hack and Obama condemned Sony’s decision not to release the film, saying “we cannot have a society in which some dictators someplace can start imposing censorship here in the United States”.
“Imagine what they start doing once they see a documentary that they don’t like or news reports that they don’t like.”
Sony Entertainment CEO Michael Lynton told CNN’s Fareed Zakaria, though, in an interview broadcast today, that the President was “mistaken” – and that Sony made the decision because there were no cinemas willing to screen the movie.
While it is true that censorship imposed from another country should not hold sway over freedom of speech, the reluctance of cinemas to test the severity of the threats is understandable, both compassionately and legally.
“We do not own movie theatres,” said Lynton. “We cannot determine whether or not a movie will be played in movie theaters.”
“We have not given in. And we have not backed down. We have always had every desire to have the American public see this movie.”
He added that there are still “a number of options” open to Sony, which naturally translates to one thing: The Internet.
Surely, VOD is the way forward for The Interview? YouTube, Netflix, Hulu (in America), Amazon, iTunes. Any digital service would give the movie the chance to find the maximum possible audience without the risk of harm in public venues.
But Lynton also said that no “major video on demand distributor” has been willing to distribute the movie.
“We don’t have that direct interface with the American public,” he added, “so we need to go through an intermediary to do that.”
And yet Sony does have a direct interface with the American public, through its own VOD service. In fact, it arguably has two: the PlayStation Network, where movies can be downloaded to watch, and Crackle.
The company bought up the ad-supported VOD site back in 2006 and it now clocks up a reported 30 million streams a month; enough to establish it as a potential contender for an alternative distribution platform.
Now, unnamed sources have told the NY Post that Sony will do exactly that. The film will reportedly be placed on the site for free.
This is far from confirmed, though. A lawyer for Sony Pictures Entertainment (David Boies) told Meet The Press Sunday Sony is still deciding what action to take.
“It will be distributed,” he said. “How it’s going to be distributed I don’t think anybody knows quite yet. But it’s going to be distributed.”
Sony spokeswoman Lauren Condoluci of Rubenstein Communications also told Recode that the company is “still exploring options for distribution” and that the Post’s story is inaccurate.
Why the hold-up?
There are several possible reasons. As an ad-supported site, Sony would not be able to charge people to watch The Interview – which may be deterring it from the move. Also, Crackle is not present in all markets: in the UK, Sony actually closed the site in April 2014, after facing tough competition from other streaming sites. (The fact that many people in the UK have never even heard of Crackle is a sign of its weak international presence.)
There are also several possible solutions. As well platforms such as VHX, which allow people to release their movies directly (and, unlike Crackle, globally) to the public, the PlayStation Network remains an option. Lynton also admitted that YouTube is “certainly one thing we will consider”. Or, of course, Sony could always add a voluntary donation link to their Crackle video. (Pay-what-you-want models of release are increasingly common online. According to one piece of research, in fact, prices paid by consumers tend to be “significantly greater” than zero, with PWYW models possibly even leading to an increase in revenue.)
There are other, perhaps even more radical, options too.
BitTorrent recently told Venture Beat that it would be willing to release Sony’s movie through BitTorrent Bundle.
The platform, which is used by “almost 20,000 creators and rights holders”, would be a “safe and legal way” to “set the price for the film and release it widely without implicating anyone or exposing any third party to a terrorist threat”.
“We disagree, however, with some that have suggested that Sony should make the film available through piracy sites,” said BitTorrent.
It is oddly ironic to consider that hackers could help a Hollywood studio to release a movie that has been thwarted by hackers – perhaps in an alternative universe, where The Pirate Bay, which was recently shut down by the Swedish police, was around to help spread it.
Last week, Judd Apatow predicted that The Interview “will be on BitTorrent in six weeks. Clearly, this was meant to hurt Sony financially.”
“It’s also important to make the distinction that these piracy sites are not “torrent sites.” They are piracy sites that are wrongfully exploiting torrent technology,” BitTorrent added.
What is certain, though, is that Sony is still keen to find a way to release their film, probably using digital video – whether that is for free, through its own interface, or via another method.
“It is still our hope that anyone who wants to see this movie will get the opportunity to do so,” Lynton told CNN.
It is our hope too – and we will keep you posted of any legal way to watch The Interview on VOD, for free or otherwise.
Editorial Note: We have chosen not to cover the Sony hacking story until now, on the grounds that gossiping over salacious, stolen emails is, generally speaking, not the basis of journalism. We highly recommend reading this interview with George Clooney by Deadline.