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Will Netflix or iTunes have the guts to show The Interview?

Sony throws down the gauntlet to video-on-demand services

Sony has thrown down the gauntlet to leading video-on-demand companies such as Netflix and Apple, offering to let them show the controversy-strewn movie The Interview. Sony has suffered weeks of embarrassment, after the film, which depicts an assassination attempt on North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, prompted hackers to attack the company’s network. The attack, which the FBI claims originated from North Korea, has seen unreleased movies and sensitive financial documents leak online, amongst other things. 

Sony decided to pull the movie last week, after the hackers warned of terrorist attacks on cinemas showing the film. That move was condemned by none other than US president Barack Obama, who accused Sony of caving to the demands of dictators. “We cannot have a society in which some dictator someplace can start imposing censorship here in the United States,” the president said. 

However, Sony Pictures CEO, Michael Lynton, told CNN the company has every intention of releasing the film, if it can find a distributor. “As it stands right now, while there have been a number of suggestions… there has not been one major VOD distributor [or] one major e-commerce site that has stepped forward and said they’re willing to distribute this movie for us,” he said, adding that Sony had no mechanism for distributing the movie itself.

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It’s not clear whether Sony has approached video-on-demad companies to distribute The Interview or is waiting for one to come forward. Sony later released a statement reasserting its desire to release the film in some form, adding that “free expression should never be suppressed by threats and extortion”.  

The big question is whether a service such as Netflix or Apple’s iTunes would be willing to goad the hackers by releasing The Interview. Given that parts of Sony’s internal computer network remain down and that the company has suffered incalcuable damage to its reputation in recent weeks, the video-on-demand services will have to weigh up the risks of distributing the film.

Apple and Amazon continue to sell Team America: World Police, a 2004 movie that poked fun at the country’s then leader Kim Jong Il, and reportedly sold out of the DVD version of the film this weekend, in what appears to be an act of defiance by US consumers.

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