The Interview on demand

There’s little doubt the incredible tale of releasing The Interview is one for the ages. Years down the road, film historians will look back at the stunning chain of events that lead the comedy from being a massive wide release, to being totally cancelled, to being the first major studio film ever released day and date on demand. And that story is still being told. The Seth Rogen/Evan Goldberg comedy opened on Christmas Day in over 300 theaters in the US, but hit XBox, YouTube and Google Play the day before. It’s also now on iTunes and may soon go on Netflix. The whole thing has become an experiment about the traditional, theatrical distribution model versus on demand.

Which brings us to the question at hand: The numbers for the opening weekend of The Interview, both in theaters and on demand. In a pretty interesting turn of events, the film grossed five times as much on demand than theaters. Would that’ve been different had it played in major theater chains? And what do the numbers really mean? We’ll discuss The Interview On Demand gross below.

First up, the hard data. Sony is reporting the film made $15 million from the on demand outlets and $2.8 million from the theaters showing the movie.

That’s kind of staggering on a bunch of levels. The film has been downloaded – legally – about 2 million times and the result is a number very much in line with original, pre-controversy estimates. (Box office analysts were predicting it would make about $20 million had it opened in wide release.) What those numbers don’t take into account is the two weeks of non-stop press surrounding the film, which undoubtedly raised awareness much higher than its traditional marketing would have.

So is the number big enough to change the way Hollywood distributes its movies? That remains to be seen. The whole release was kind of thrown together over the course of a few days so even though it was a sure fire success, it’s hard to say if it would have been better or worse without the controversy or with a more traditional marketing plan. There’s also the unanswerable question of, if the film hadn’t been in theaters at all or vice versa, how different would the number have been? 300 screens is not a lot so the majority of people who were curious about the film had to watch it online. Had it been released in major theater chains, they might have considered going there. We just don’t know.

We also don’t have the specific number of how much of the on demand money goes to the studio versus the split they have with theaters. Then there’s the question of how much less it costs to distribute a film online versus on demand as well as the discrepancy in individual ticket prices versus a single download. Basically, there are a ton of variables in this specific case that make anything definitive impossible. It’s certainly encouraging though.

The only real answer we have is this is just the beginning of a very interesting and important conversation in the business of movies. What are your thoughts on The Interview On Demand grosses?

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