Sony Cancels “The Interview”… What Now?

Though the hacking of Sony Pictures has been dominating entertainment trade paper headlines for much of the past month, the past 36 hours has seen a flurry of activity culminating in the news a few hours ago that the studio is cancelling the Christmas release of its Seth Rogen and James Franco-led comedy “The Interview”.

What really changed the game wasn’t the original cyber-attack or the information that came out of it, but rather a threat by the hackers, a mysterious group called the ‘Guardians of Peace’, yesterday regarding the release of “The Interview”. The threat suggested North American cinemas playing the film could be subjected to a potential terrorist attack.

The Department of Homeland Security weighed in on the matter a few hours later, saying it hadn’t discovered evidence of an active plot against U.S. theaters planning to show the film. Even so, theater chains balked at the idea – concerned with legal liability if violence erupts at screenings, or if potential copycat attacks might occur. Meanwhile Sony quickly cancelled the film’s planned premiere and press commitments by the actors and crew.

By lunchtime today, pretty much all the major theater chains said they would delay or drop the movie, a move that certainly sent their stock prices up. Whilst there was rumors Sony might try a direct premium-VOD release, the company has now issued an official statement saying they have pulled the planned release of the film and have “no further plans” to release the comedy on VOD, DVD or internationally.

All mention of the film has been pulled from the company’s official site and it looks like the studio will have to swallow the cost of the film which boasted a $42 million budget and tens of millions in promotion and advertising expenditures. In the statement, Sony said:

“We are deeply saddened at this brazen effort to suppress the distribution of a movie, and in the process do damage to our company, our employees, and the American public. We stand by our filmmakers and their right to free expression and are extremely disappointed by this outcome. Those who attacked us stole our intellectual property, private emails and sensitive and proprietary material, and sought to destroy our spirit and our morale – all apparently to thwart the release of a movie they did not like.”

A few hours ago President Obama told ABC News that the cyber-attack on Sony was very serious, but his administration had yet to establish the hacker threat as credible and “For now, my recommendation would be that people go to the movies.”

The U.S. Justice Department is expected to announce findings regarding the cyber-attack tomorrow with several outlets such as CNN, Deadline and Fox News reporting that the cyber-attack may have been committed at the behest of North Korea. More on that front is expected in a few hours.

National Security Council spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan has also issued a response in regards to the cancelling of the film’s release. She says (via Variety):

“The U.S. government closely monitors all reports of breaches affecting U.S. companies, U.S. consumers, and U.S. infrastructure. We know that criminals and foreign countries regularly seek to gain access to government and private sector networks – both in the United States and elsewhere.

The U.S. government has offered Sony Pictures Entertainment support and assistance in response to the attack. The FBI has the lead for the investigation. The United States is investigating attribution and will provide an update at the appropriate time. The U.S. government is working tirelessly to bring the perpetrators of this attack to justice, and we are considering a range of options in weighing a potential response.

We are aware of Sony’s announcement regarding ”he Interview.’ The United States respects artists’ and entertainers’ right to produce and distribute content of their choosing. The U.S. government has no involvement in such decisions. We take very seriously any attempt to threaten or limit artists’ freedom of speech or of expression.”

Source: Sony Pictures, Variety,