The comedy featuring Seth Rogen and James Franco generated $15 million online and $2.8 million at 331 box offices — and analysts say that’s not enough to inspire studios to challenge theaters’ role as the exclusive first forum for major new releases. Theaters “would likely continue to boycott those films” that simultaneously debuted online “and it would be difficult for studios to recoup their costs on a digital-only model,” B. Riley’s Eric Wold says. He calls The Interview “a one-off” with an online-and-theater release model that wouldn’t work for “anything larger than a small-budget, independent film.”
Sony Pictures might have been able to generate as much as four times the revenues it saw from digital — where it cost $5.99 to rent the film, and $14.99 to buy — when you consider “the likelihood that more than one person was watching the digital version at the same time,” he says.
Investors seemed to agree that business models remain intact. Sony’s U.S. shares closed down just 0.5% — not a meaningful move. Exhibition stocks also appeared unaffected: Regal closed +1.8%, AMC Entertainment was -0.2%, with Carmike +1.2% and Cinemark +0.4%.
Benchmark Co’s Mike Hickey says that Sony’s digital gambit “is irrelevant to the ongoing debate over theatrical windowing.” Digital sales were “inflated from the cyber media spectacle” and theaters benefited from “heightened Americanism over the holiday period.” Indeed, even if there’s a future threat similar to the attack that hackers vowed to make against venues that showed The Interview, it likely would play out differently. Theaters and studios “have had sufficient time to formulate a contingency plan.”
Macquarie Securities’ Tim Nollen also says that the weekend sales weren’t big enough to make the players rethink their business models. Going online “was as much a political move as a revenue generating move,” he says. With the enormous publicity “it probably got much more streaming revenue than a normal film would.” And studio chiefs would have to ask themselves: “Why would you want to risk your TV revenues over time? And you’ll eventually get the streaming revenues.”