Yes, indeed, Christmas.

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Will 'The Interview' End Up Enriching Sony?

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Well, folks, start popping that corn. Sony Pictures announced today that "The Interview" will come out in theaters on Dec. 25. "We have never given up on releasing 'The Interview' and we're excited our movie will be in a number of theaters on Christmas Day," Michael Lynton, chief executive officer of Sony Entertainment, said in a statement. "At the same time, we are continuing our efforts to secure more platforms and more theaters so that this movie reaches the largest possible audience." So this movie is going to be released, in at least some theaters, and possibly on video on demand.

Which raises a question: Can Sony really make lemonade out of its North Korean lemon?

Let's not get too excited yet. Fusion's Kevin Roose reported, based on, yes, a hacked Sony document, that the film's production budget "ended up being $44 million." Tens of millions were seemingly spent on marketing. Last week, Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight did some analysis of comparable films and suggested that the film could have made about $100 million in theaters worldwide. All of which is to say, Sony has a lot to recoup under still dodgy circumstances.

"I'm actually really surprised that Sony would reverse course and agree to show the movie given the risks and a limited release -- which seems like more of a stand than an attempt to generate box office," wrote Eric Wold, an analyst with B. Riley & Co. by e-mail.

The New York Times reported: "One person briefed on the effort said on Tuesday that it appeared unlikely that big chains like Regal or AMC would come on board but that Sony was likely to patch together distribution for the film in 200 to 300 smaller theaters." Without major theater chains, this release probably won't amount to much financially. Although, given all the press that has surrounded the film, demand may well outpace supply; we could soon be seeing news photos of long lines outside theaters.

A VOD release will probably "generate meaningful revenues given the increased hype and demand," Wold wrote.  Still, an on-demand release won't help to win over the big theater chains which, as the Hollywood Reporter explained,"insist that when movies are released theatrically there shouldn't be simultaneous VOD releases." The New York Times noted that it "remained unclear, however, whether any on-demand service would take" the film.

So, Sony appears unlikely to make a killing on "The Interview." But it does seem set to make more than the bupkis it was going to earn just a few days ago. Meanwhile, the movie will earn unique cultural cachet while making an improbably pairing of Seth Rogen and art house cinemas. President Barack Obama is happy. Citizens will be able to celebrate freedom of expression by paying to watch what is probably a terrible movie -- potentially from the safety of their own homes. Someone preorder the Chinese food.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg View's editorial board or Bloomberg LP, its owners and investors.

To contact the author on this story:
Zara Kessler at zkessler@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor on this story:
Francis Wilkinson at fwilkinson1@bloomberg.net