Sony's 'The Interview' gets online release through Google, Xbox

'The Interview' is released online a day before theatrical release

Sony Pictures' comedy "The Interview" was released online Wednesday, the day before the film's theatrical release. 

The studio struck deals to make the movie available on Google Play, YouTube Movies, and Microsoft's Xbox Video for rent and purchase, starting at 10 a.m. PST. The movie has also been made available through a standalone site, www.seetheinterview.com. Rentals cost $5.99, while customers can pay $14.99 to buy the movie. 

This comes a day after the company authorized a limited theatrical release of "The Interview" through mostly independent cinemas on Christmas Day. More than 300 theaters will be showing the movie, Sony said. 

Sony had previously canceled its plans for a Christmas theatrical debut after major theater chains opted out of showing it, following threats of violence from hackers.

Sony Pictures Chairman and Chief Executive Michael Lynton said the company initially contacted Google, Microsoft and others on Dec. 17, the day it canceled its plans for a wide release of "The Interview" on Christmas Day. 

"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," Lynton said in a statement.

"While we couldn’t have predicted the road this movie traveled to get to this moment, I’m proud our fight was not for nothing and that cyber criminals were not able to silence us," Lynton continued.

As the studio begins its online rollout, Sony is looking for additional "partners and platforms to further expand the release,” Lynton said. 

The company has been in talks with Los Gatos-based Netflix to make the movie available on its popular video streaming service, according to people briefed on the matter. A deal to make "The Interview" available on Netflix, which counts about 53 million subscribers, has not yet materialized.

A representative for Netflix declined to comment.  

Notably, major online services including Apple Inc.'s iTunes and Amazon.com have not signed on to participate in the movie's release. Pay TV companies also have not announced plans to show the movie through their on-demand serivces. Sony had been in talks with satellite TV company Dish Network, but those talks fell apart. 

Sony has been trying to find ways to release the movie as the studio continues to deal with the reverberations of a massive cyber attack that became public a month ago.

Hackers calling themselves Guardians of Peace hijacked Sony Pictures' computer systems and stole troves of sensitive data that were released to the Web.  

U.S. officials have blamed the North Korean government for the attack. North Korea has denied involvement, but has praised the hack and denounced "The Interview," which depicts a fictional assassination attempt on that country's leader Kim Jong-Un. 

David Drummond, Google's SVP of Corporate Development and Chief Legal Officer, said Google had been interested in helping Sony release the film, but security was a concern.

"Of course it was tempting to hope that something else would happen to ensure this movie saw the light of day," Drummond wrote in a blog post. "But 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)." 

Microsoft also released a statement on Wednesday, saying it supports Sony's decision to release the film in a limited number of theaters and through video on-demand outlets. Here's the full statement from a Microsoft spokesman: 

“We support Sony Pictures Entertainment’s distribution of “The Interview” in the U.S. through limited theatrical release and video-on-demand providers. Microsoft is making it available through video-on-demand on Xbox Video starting today at 10 a.m. PT. Our decision to support freedom of expression is consistent with our company values.”

In a blog post, Microsoft's general counsel Brad Smith said that the company decided to participate in the release after "substantial thought."

"We’re not endorsing this movie or any other," Smith wrote. "We are supporting the Constitutional right of free expression, and we hope that by acting together, we will help deter other attacks."

Putting out a major Hollywood broad comedy out through on-demand vendors at the same time as a theatrical debut -- known in the industry as a day-and-date release -- is an unusual strategy, considering the film was originally intended for about 3,000 locations.

The VOD release had some theater owners fuming Wednesday, saying it would set a bad precedent and undermine traditional business models that have long given theaters exclusive access to major Hollywood movies.

Joe Masher, chief operating officer for Bow Tie Cinemas, said he had ruled out showing “The Interview” in his 55 theaters in New York and five other states.

“We don’t play VOD titles,” he said. “It has always been the nature of our business that we enjoy exclusive access to these films prior to their release in home video.  We’re standing strong with our brethren in supporting that.”

Follow Ryan Faughnder on Twitter for more entertainment business coverage: @rfaughnder

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times

UPDATES

12:10 p.m.: This post has been updated with reactions from theater owners. 

11 a.m.: This post has been updated with comments from Google and Microsoft, as well as additional background information.

The first version of this post was published at 9:25 a.m.

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