Will 'The Interview' VOD Success Change Film Distribution Game?
by Ethan Anderton
December 29, 2014
The Christmas box office weekend is over, and now it's time to see just how the combined limited theatrical release and fast VOD debut of the unnecessarily controversial comedy The Interview fared. There have been plenty of numbskulls who believe that this whole scenario was somehow a publicity stunt by Sony Pictures to make more money off the film, but we're not even going to get into why that's absolutely moronic. But now the official numbers are in, and in theaters, the film rounded up about $2.8 million. But the real news is The Interview raked in $15 million from their VOD release that began Christmas Eve.
The online haul will even be slightly bigger since The Interview only just became available on Apple's iTunes store on Sunday. It's undoubtedly the biggest digital release for Sony, but could this be a potential game changer for the industry that hasn't yet embraced the idea of releasing films on VOD and in theaters simultaneously? Well, yes and no, but the problem is that this isn't exactly the best scenario to use when considering a change in the distribution model of movies, and it's going to take some time for an overhaul.
First of all, while The Interview has an impressive pull in online sales, it's important to note that the hype around the film was unusual to say the least. Due to all the articles being written about the terrorist threats, the film being pulled from theaters, and so on, there was endless free publicity for the film in the couple weeks leading up to the film's eventual (though smaller) release. Therefore, using the film's performance as evidence that films being released on VOD will perform well alongside a theatrical release isn't entirely fair. Plus, your average VOD release wouldn't hit as many platforms as The Interview, so it's hard to gauge how the film would have fared as just another VOD title.
On the other side of the fence, some point to the solid performance of the film on VOD as a negative. Theater owners especially are using the numbers as evidence that releasing a film on VOD day-and-date with the film's theatrical debut will actually hurt the movie's box office. Of course, $2.8 million isn't a record-breaking number, but considering that the movie opened on less than 10% of the number of screens it would have in a wide release (the independent theaters also have more limited seating), and during one of the most crowded, family-oriented weekends of the year, that's not really a viable argument either.
In fact, Sony Pictures was projecting a $20 million box office weekend when their wide release was still planned, and they actually managed to almost reach that prediction with their VOD and limited theatrical engagement. Therefore, the use of VOD can obviously be beneficial to studios, especially with films that have limited theatrical reach, but making audiences aware of those films on the same level as The Interview would not be as easy. This unique release of The Interview will certainly be analyzed for awhile, but we'll have to wait and see how the industry reacts and if any real changes occur in distribution. Thoughts?