The Interview movie poster

“The Interview” and the Future of Film Distribution

Due to the exceptional circumstances of the film “The Interview”, this conventional Hollywood production is being distributed in an unconventional way. As those of you in the U.S. have probably heard, the film became available simultaneously online and in movie theatres.

This distribution strategy – called a day-and-date release in industry jargon – has been often discussed, but never attempted on a big Hollywood title. And so “The Interview” has become a great test case for such a strategy. So far, though, the test results point to a failure.

As reported by Deadline, the film has so far generated $15 million online and $2.8 million from 331 theatre screens. These are healthy numbers for a film that Sony Pictures tries to salvage, but they are disappointing when compared to gross that such a film could normally expect if it followed the conventional windowing distribution (where theatres would have exclusivity for the first four to six months).

This is also a disappointment to those movie viewers who are hoping to soon see the day when films are easily available to everyone right at launch time.

Film producers will see it as a negative development, too, as they’ve been trying to get theatre owners on board with the day-and-date distribution – so far, the major US theatre chains have boycotted all films that didn’t offer them exclusivity.

Considering the fact that most indie films, as well as many Hollywood productions geared to mature audiences, will see only limited theatrical release, giving theatres exclusivity for several months seems like a bad business. Does it make sense to spend marketing dollars but not make the film immediately available to anyone who becomes interested in the film?

We watch films mostly on impulse. Unlike buying a computer or a house appliance, for example, there is no practical purpose to them. They are just entertainment. So when we become interested in a film, it should be available to us a click away, or, at the most, a short drive away. Otherwise, we lose interest, or find an illegal way to see the movie.

For most films, a limited theatrical distribution concurrent with all other platforms that allow renting or sales seems like the best strategy – both for the filmmakers and the viewers.

Maybe distributors can improve the digital platforms so that – before they sell or rent a movie – they first encourage people to go to a movie theatre if they are a short distance away (by giving them the exact location, time and maybe a discount). People share their location more and more, so this very doable.

Another option could be to allow only pre-sales in the first few weeks when the film also plays in the theatres. This way people can act on their impulse, but there would be still a motivation to visit a theatre.

There must be other ways to improve the day-and-date release.

Hopefully, distributors will innovate, despite disappointments like “The Interview”, because the status quo certainly doesn’t work for the majority of films, and neither does it work for theatre owners.

Some movies lose a lot if they are not seen in theatres and it would be sad if theatrical distribution was limited to only the big mainstream productions.

What’s your opinion on all of this? Is it different as a viewer than a content creator?

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