As 'Interview' takes streaming plunge, Hollywood tests waters

Mon Dec 29, 2014 9:27pm EST
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By Eric Kelsey and Lisa Richwine

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Consumers paid $15 million in just four days to watch "The Interview" from the comfort of their couches, building expectations that other hot, new films might also make their debut online.

But Hollywood is not quite ready to give that to viewers, experts say. Even so, Sony Pictures' initial success streaming its controversial comedy will add momentum to the industry's slow adoption of same-day theater and video-on-demand (VOD) release.

The experiment, a last-ditch effort by the unit of Sony Corp to keep "The Interview" alive despite a cyberattack on the studio and threats to movie theaters, has shown the technology works and people like it.

That outcome could embolden studios to shorten wait times between theatrical release and VOD and put more small films on same-day distribution. New platforms could muscle their way into movie streaming after seeing a relative VOD novice such as Google Inc.'s YouTube Movies score with "The Interview."

Two big obstacles stand in the way of a rush to emulate distribution of "The Interview": close ties that have developed over the years between movie theaters and Hollywood studios, and the fact that movies still make a lot of money in theaters.

"The vast majority of revenues will still be generated three or five years from now at the theater," said Hal Vogel, the chief executive of Vogel Capital Management.

Analysts are uneasy about reading too much into the online success of a comedy that is now in a class of its own because the movie triggered a cyberattack that the U.S. government blames on North Korea.

But studios have experimented with shortening the so-called "theatrical window", which now averages three months and 14 days compared with nearly six months back in 1997.   Continued...

The poster for the film "The Interview" is seen outside the Alamo Drafthouse theater in Littleton, Colorado December 23, 2014.  REUTERS/Rick Wilking