Sony releases North Korea film online in US – Financial Times

A security guard stands at the entrance of United Artists theater during the premiere of the film ©Reuters

A security guard at ‘The Interview’s’ premiere on 11 December. The theatrical release has been cancelled

Sony Pictures will release The Interview online on Wednesday in the US via several streaming outlets, a day before the film will appear in about 300 cinemas.

The deal to make the film available for rent on Google Play, YouTube, Microsoft’s Xbox video service and a dedicated Sony website marks a further change of fortunes for the comedy about an assassination plot against North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, which sparked a hacking attack on Sony, threats against cinemas and tensions between North Korea and the US.

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“It has always been Sony’s intention to have a national platform on which to release this film,” said Michael Lynton, chairman and chief executive of Sony Entertainment.

“It was essential for our studio to release this movie, especially given the assault upon our business and our employees by those who wanted to stop free speech. We chose the path of digital distribution first so as to reach as many people as possible on opening day, and we continue to seek other partners and platforms to further expand the release.”

About 300 independent US theatres plan to screen the film starting on Christmas Day. It is available to rent online for $5.99, or $14.99 for high definition, beginning at 10am pacific time, or 1pm eastern time.

Google said in a blog post that after being among the companies contacted by Sony last week about distribution, it was “eager to help — though . . . the security implications were very much at the front of our minds.”

“After discussing all the issues, Sony and Google agreed that we could not sit on the sidelines and allow a handful of people to determine the limits of free speech in another country (however silly the content might be),” said the post signed by David Drummond, Google’s senior vice-president of corporate development and chief legal officer.

Sony’s move to distribute the film widely on the internet and in movie theatres comes just a week after the studio scrapped its original opening when major US cinema chains balked at screening the film amid threats on audiences invoking September 11, 2001.

The Interview has become the latest flashpoint for Sony, which was the target of a hacking attack in November that US investigators have blamed on North Korea. Huge amounts of company data, including employees’ health records and other personal information and executives’ emails, were leaked by a group calling itself Guardians of Peace.

While North Korea has denied responsibility for the hack, it has complained to the UN about the film and accused the US of sponsoring terrorism.

Releasing a film simultaneously online and in theatres — known in the industry as “day and date” — is an unusual move for a wide-release title such as The Interview.

While some independent movies have been released in this way, the model has been opposed by theatre owners. When Netflix announced a deal to bring Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon 2 to its streaming service on the same day the film premieres in theatres, several big chains said they would not show it.

The online release comes after Sony’s decision last week to pull the original opening, which met with criticism from Hollywood figures and President Barack Obama. The studio said it had no choice after the five largest cinema chains dropped the film.

Sony said it had been working to find alternate routes to release the film since last week and had contacted Google, Microsoft and other companies “when it became clear our initial release plans were not possible.”

“This release represents our commitment to our filmmakers and free speech. While we couldn’t have predicted the road this movie travelled to get to this moment, I’m proud our fight was not for nothing and that cyber criminals were not able to silence us,” Mr Lynton said.

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