NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Sony (SNE) may still lose money on The Interview, but the success of the film's online distribution suggests that Hollywood's largest studios may soon begin experimenting with debuting films simultaneously in theaters and on digital platforms.
"Fifteen million dollars is a huge sum of money," Jeff Bock, senior box office analyst at Exhibitor Relations, said of the proceeds Sony collected from online rentals and sales of the The Interview in its first four days of availability.
Granted, Sony backed into the strategy of what the movie industry calls day-and-date releases, whereby a film becomes available in theaters as well as DVD and video-on-demand on the same day. It's a strategy increasingly employed by smaller distributors whose films are unlikely to have a long run at theaters. It's also used to eliminate or at least cut down on piracy. The music industry grudgingly embraced Apple's (AAPL) iTunes on the notion that the public would pay a reasonable fee to acquire songs legally rather than through an illegal file-sharing site. And the music industry has never been the same.
Similarly, the hastily arranged distribution of The Interview could end up being a milestone for Hollywood.
"This could be the start of a huge paradigm shift for major releases," said Bock, adding that lower-budget comedies (especially those with 'R' ratings) and horror films would probably work better through such arrangements than large-budget epic films with a lot of special effects, he said.
"This was the perfect storm to test something like this," he added, explaining that the major theater chains decided not to exhibit The Interview, setting up a situation whereby distribution went to individually owned cinemas in urban locations as well as digital platforms.
The online revenue generated by the movie was especially impressive considering there was only minimal planning by Sony. With a genuine marketing plan, rather than chaotic damage control, Sony might have generated even more sales.
Then again, Sony was ironically aided by its own misfortune -- massive cyberattacks -- and by President Obama's comments that the studio made a "mistake" when it initially decided not to debut the film on Christmas out of fears about terrorist attacks.
Independent film distributors have been releasing foreign movies, documentaries and other select types of films theatrically and via VOD simultaneously for a few years now. But the major Hollywood studios have been largely unable to because the big theater chains have objected. The studios may also be nervous about cannibalizing more lucrative box office sales.