Business / Corporate

Sony considers options for release of 'The Interview'

Bloomberg

Sony Pictures Chief Executive Officer Michael Lynton is looking for a new way to release the satirical film “The Interview” after U.S. theater chains refused to show it over threats of violence from hackers linked to North Korea.

Lynton, who runs the Culver City, California-based unit of Sony Corp., said in an interview with CNN’s Fareed Zakaria that his company hasn’t “given in.” Though the studio canceled the movie’s Christmas Day release, a decision criticized by U.S. President Barack Obama, Lynton held out the possibility that the Seth Rogen comedy will be shown on streaming or video-on-demand services.

“There are a number of options open to us, and we have considered those and are considering them,” Lynton said, adding that his company needs a distribution partner.

Sony Pictures’ decision to bow to demands from hackers known as the Guardians of Peace triggered a backlash that reached the highest levels of the U.S. government. The president, who said he wished he’d known Sony would cancel the release, used strong language Dec. 19 to criticize the studio.

“I would’ve told them, ‘Do not get into a pattern in which you’re intimidated by these kinds of threats and attacks,’ ” Obama told reporters. Lynton expressed disappointment in the administration’s reaction and said he had reached out to the White House earlier in the week.

Jennifer Friedman, deputy press secretary at the White House, said Sunday in an email message that “we are pleased to hear that Sony is actively working to distribute the film. People should be able to decide for themselves whether or not they would like to see it.”

No one has offered to release the movie, Lynton said. Companies with the ability to do so, such as Netflix Inc., Apple Inc., Amazon.com Inc. and Google Inc.’s YouTube, have all declined to comment.

Sony does own a streaming-video service, Crackle, and its PlayStation Network. Lynton hasn’t commented on whether Sony would use them, nor would a company spokesman. The New York Post, citing sources it didn’t identify, said today that Sony would release the movie on Crackle for free. Bob Lawson, a spokesman for Sony at Rubenstein Communications, said the story wasn’t accurate and that the company is still exploring its options for distributing the film.

Officials at the four largest theater chains, Regal Entertainment Group, AMC Entertainment Holdings Inc., Cinemark Holdings Inc. and Carmike Cinemas Inc., didn’t respond to emailed requests for comment.

“The top priority for Carmike Cinemas is to ensure that our valued guests may enjoy the entertainment of their choosing in a safe and comfortable environment,” Carmike said on Wednesday. “In an abundance of caution, Carmike will delay the exhibition of ‘The Interview.’ “

Netflix, the largest online subscription-video service, declined to say whether it’s discussed “The Interview” with Sony.

“We are approached on virtually every unconventional release by the networks and studios and, as a matter of course, don’t discuss publicly the pitches, concepts or ideas that come our way,” said Jonathan Friedland, a Netflix spokesman, in an emailed statement.

Apple declined to comment, while officials at Amazon and Google didn’t respond to requests for comment.

Obama said Friday that Sony erred in calling off the release of “The Interview,” a comedy about a U.S. television crew that plots to kill North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Obama said he wished Sony “had spoken to me first” before pulling the comedy, which stars Rogen and James Franco. Obama told CNN in an interview broadcast Monday that he considered the hack “cybervandalism” rather than “an act of war.”

Sony was in touch with senior White House officials earlier in the week, Lynton said. He didn’t speak to the president.

“A few days ago I personally did reach out and speak to senior folks at the White House,” Lynton said, adding he “informed them that we needed help.”

The administration and company didn’t discuss pulling the movie from theaters, and officials didn’t want to set a precedent of recommending specific actions to a private business, according to two senior U.S. officials who requested anonymity to discuss internal policy debates and diplomacy. Discussions focused on how seriously to take the threats of violence, they said.

The North Korean government called on the U.S. on Sunday to hold a joint investigation into the incident and said it had nothing to do with the hacking, which paralyzed Sony’s computer systems and stole unreleased movies, sensitive email and documents.

North Korea can prove its innocence and warned of “grave consequences” if the U.S. fails to take up its offer, the country’s foreign ministry said in an emailed statement cited by the state-run Korea Central News Agency. “As the U.S. is spreading groundless allegations and slandering us, we propose a joint investigation,” the ministry said.

Mark Stroh, a spokesman for the U.S. National Security Council, said Sunday that “as the FBI made clear, we are confident the North Korean government is responsible for this destructive attack.” He said the “government of North Korea has a long history of denying responsibility for destructive and provocative actions.”

If the North Korean government wants to help, they can admit their culpability and compensate Sony for the damages this attack caused,” he said.

Despite the controversy and potentially tens of millions of dollars in lost revenue, Lynton said he had no regrets about producing “The Interview.”

“I would make the movie again, for the same reasons we made it in the first place,” he said. “It was a funny comedy; it served as political satire.”

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