Sony Pictures Entertainment has announced that The Interview, the controversial comedy starring James Franco and Seth Rogen that may or may not have caused the huge cyber-attack that crippled the movie studio, will be available for rent via online streaming services starting this afternoon. According to a post on CNN Money, the movie will be available for rent or purchase beginning 1 p.m. Eastern today from YouTube, Google Play, the Microsoft Xbox, and on SeeTheInterview.com.

So how much will it cost to take a look at a brand new, big budget comedy that’s being released simultaneously in theaters and online on Christmas Eve? Renting the movie costs $5.99, while a purchase is $14.99. That’s for people who want to own a piece of digital history, I guess.

Additionally, the movie will be screened at roughly 300 independent theaters across America, since most of the major theater chains have dropped plans to show the film after vague threats of violence came from the supposed cyber-attack perpetrators.

There are a few interesting questions that have come out of this debacle. Let’s forget for a moment that The Interview looks pretty stupid, even by dumb comedy standards. Because of its dicey subject matter, it instigated one of the more interesting debates over free speech in recent memory: how far are we willing to go to protect free speech? Are we willing to allow threats of violence from other nations goad us into restricting our right to free expression, no matter how tasteless that expression might be?

Then there are the more practical questions that come with Sony’s decision to release the movie online along with its theatrical debut. Clearly The Interview has the kind of media push and advertising campaign that is second to none. As such, more people will see this movie than Sony ever could have hoped before the hack. Will the movie turn a profit despite losing a substantial chunk of theatrical distribution? Will The Interview act as a test case for web-released big budget movies? Or will this whole thing be regarded as a blip in the practice of movie distribution?

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While I’m not particularly interested in The Interview as a film in and of itself, I do hope it’s a smash hit – if only because I want movie studios to explore new ways of connecting people with content. Movie theaters charge a premium for a sub-optimal viewing experience. I’m more than happy to pay money for great watching experiences, like super-comfy reclining seats, and bar service. But most theaters take it for granted that you’re going to see a movie when it’s new. Digital distribution could force theaters to make their locations a true destination, rather than the only game in town.

[Source: CNN Money]


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