Honey-Hacked! How Sony wooed us all into our own living rooms.
How many of you downloaded The Interview? Safe and cozy, nestled into couches and loungers, surrounded by people with equally sick senses of humor, your family, how many of you paid to rent or buy the hands down most talked about movie over the holidays? No one said critically acclaimed, just talked about. Sure Angie’s movie, war, strength, heartbreak, and triumph, looks as though it will win some awards, maybe even touch some hearts. But The Interview has been plastered across TV news and opinion shows, social media, even been discussed by the President since Thanksgiving.
So did you, because we did, and while there were some hiccups, and a few well-timed ‘I guess you can stop the signal’ jokes, this movie release convinced me that we should have a bit more respect for Sony.
Not because of the movie. It was the kind of gross, crude, funny, crazy, meatball comedy that this movie had to be to work, but no one was expecting The Remains of The Day.
No, it occurred to me as the credits rolled, Sony didn’t even wear sexy nerd glasses. Were we all just ‘Honey-hacked?” Sony may not have been behind the hacking, they might not have intended for this movie to have been the first big VOD release that sidestepped a coughing and wheezing movie theater industry, but those low-cut terror threats sure had been replaced with a nice high buttoned up collar concealing just how much the company has made on their big release.
Most of you have probably heard that AMC, Regal, and other big movie theater chains refused to show The Interview due to apparent North Korean threats, which culminated with Sony being hacked. Though there is no evidence North Korea had anything to do with the Sony hack. Since 2004 ticket sales in movie theaters have fallen by 11% according to a report released in March by the Motion Picture Association of America. With ticket sales in decline over the last decade, the theater industry has recently begun to revamp what going to the movies means.
Outside of opening night, many movie showings only fill half (or less) of the available seats. In response some theater chains have begun putting quality before quantity in the design of theaters, reducing the number of seats and adding fully reclining chairs along with dine in menus. In constant competition with living rooms, they are actually emanating the home theater experience. But fewer tickets can only mean more expensive tickets and you’re really paying for the perks that are aimed at making you feel more like you’re at home.
At the same time, Hollywood has been apprehensive about giving up the movie theater distribution model that is has relied on since it’s inception. Video-on-Demand and the streaming of digital movies has only been the major point of distribution for movies as a secondary or fallback method. Scorned in the same way movies were once released straight to home video, it has been only the bastion for those ill-conceived films bound to flop until recently. There have been a few attempts at taking foreign gems and releasing them through VOD, and while the money came though, the word of mouth hasn’t. Some have speculated if this is due to a lack of consumer market for VOD servicers or more so to the lack of potential box office hits, which have gone straight from whirlwind add campaigns into a VOD release.
Then there’s the curious tale of The Interview. The raucous comedy, which shook the political world and enraged an entire communist regime (well maybe), was only given a limited release in around 300 small theaters. Opening weekend in the theaters only grossed around $1 million dollars, but the movie was also released over the Internet and through VOD outlets starting on the Wednesday before Christmas. Xbox, Google Play, and YouTube as well as the company’s own website SeeTheInterview.com, all released the movie directly into homes. When major chains balked at releasing the comedy due to imminent threats, Sony said, “Okay, take the posters down,” and set out to manage an unprecedented online release of the film.
While the individual price of seeing the movie is sure to be smaller through VOD outlets, the cut that Sony gets is bigger. Richard Greenfield, a BTIG analyst, tweeted Wednesday that the split between the theater industry and movie makers was near 50/50, while VOD owners would likely only get 30% or less. There were, however, those approximately 750,000 illegal downloads of the movie estimated by TorrentFreak, which may have put a damper on online revenue for the film. The backlash from Hollywood when Sony scrapped the release may well be the reason they tried to save face with an online option, but could it all have been a farce?
If Sony stood to lose money on the movie, which by all means was definitely more appealing to a younger audience, could they actually have saved themselves heartbreak by letting droves of toasted adolescents jam into dens and dorm rooms to see what the fuss was all about? Not to mention families such as mine, who didn’t want to settle for the re-mastered edition of Star Wars or another Tolkein-athon this Christmas, and took a chance on a movie most of us would likely have seen first on cable in 8 months, saying to ourselves, “Yeah, I remember this movie.” How many more people saw this movie opening weekend because they didn’t have to fight lines at a theater and shuffle their feet across a tacky floor filled with discarded popcorn and abandoned dreams?
Digital media may not have honey-potted the big guys in Hollywood yet, but if the future has anything to say about it, and the proportional size of flat screens in living rooms, then it will soon enough. Seth Rogan and James Franco may not be happy with the way this release went, but they should be. There were plenty of people giggling to Katy Perry, and saying, “NO, not the chorus,” then would have been if Sony hadn’t engineered the biggest online release any of us have yet seen.
And don’t worry boys, I really do wear sexy nerd glasses.