Last year’s cyber attack on Sony Pictures Entertainment was, while shocking for the film studio, utterly bizarre and intriguing. Who would have thought George Clooney would lose sleep over bad reviews for his film The Monuments Men? Or that one Sony producer thought Angelina Jolie was a “minimally talented spoiled brat”?
With the leak of several films online, Sony was also the victim of a huge breach of intellectual property. When it cancelled the planned Christmas Day release of The Interview, a controversial film about a plot to kill North Korea’s leader and possibly the reason for the hack, things were looking worse. But after reneging on that promise and releasing the film both online and in cinemas, a rosier picture was emerging. Within two days, The Interview had been downloaded more than two million times and made back a third of its $44 million budget. Two days later, it was Sony’s most downloaded title of all time.
The hack exposed the vulnerable side of such a large and powerful organisation as it lost control over large amounts of its IP. But it was striking that despite what happened, The Interview proved popular—perhaps more than it would have been without the hack—with many people paying to watch it online.
This raised at least two important points for right owners. First, people are prepared to pay to watch content online, although presumably at a reasonable price (The Interview cost $5 for a 48-hour rental or could be purchased for $14.99). And second, even after such a devastating IP breach, companies and their revenues can recover, even if not necessarily to the ideal point.
But as we find out in this month’s issue of Trademarks & Brands Online, the threat of piracy means that releasing films only online is still a risky strategy for content producers, which in itself raises some wider questions about the threats to IP.
Ed Conlon, Group Editor