Sony blew it Wednesday by pulling “The Interview” from theatres without coming up with an alternative way to distribute the movie.
First, let’s backtrack a bit.
And while the Department of Homeland Security said it probably wasn’t credible, it’s not worth the risk of the hackers or a sympathizer making good on that threat. It would have taken just one incident for everyone to start pointing fingers and howling at the theatres for not doing enough to preempt that kind of violence.
Still, Sony had a big opportunity to stick it to the hackers and come out on top. It could’ve said it would release the movie online through its own streaming service Crackle. It could also distribute it through Netflix, Hulu, Vudu, iTunes, or any one of the other online video services. The movie would reach more people and could potentially make more money than it would have made in theatres. (The buzz around the whole hacking thing would help too.)
But that’s not what Sony is doing.
Instead, Sony has decided to shelve the movie and not distribute it at all, in any form. Some members of the press got to see it early. It also leaked on some file-sharing sites, but it’s illegal to download it. Everyone else is out of luck. You’ll have a better chance finding a copy of the elusive “Star Wars Holiday Special” than seeing “The Interview” this Christmas.
There’s no good reason for Sony to do this other than protect itself from a bunch more embarrassing emails leaking out. That’s not a good enough reason, and it sets a dangerous precedent. Hacker groups now know they can bring a major corporation to its knees just by threatening leaks on the same level as the one Sony experienced over the last few weeks. A Sony spokesperson declined to comment.
Sony’s decision has already had a ripple effect through the industry.
On Wednesday, New Regency scrapped plans for a movie starring Steve Carrel that takes place in North Korea.
On Thursday, Paramount told theatres to stop playing “Team America.” Like “The Interview,” “Team America” also satirizes North Korea and then-dictator Kim Jong Il. It came out over 10 years ago, but Paramount appears to be playing it safe by sending a message to hackers that it doesn’t want to be hacked either.
Who knows what’s next?
It’s clear now that this isn’t just about public safety. The hackers have instilled a legitimate fear in the movie studios. By caving to the hackers, Sony set us up for an assault on our right to free speech by a group of anonymous pranksters. (Remember, it’s still not clear whether or not the hackers have ties to North Korea.)
Sony had one chance to make everything right and potentially beat the hackers at their own game by releasing the film online to a massive audience. Instead, Sony blew it and gave the hackers even more power than they had before.
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