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Sony could lose 'at least $30M' on The Interview, says national theater group

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Sony could potentially lose out on at least $30 million following the release of controversial Seth Rogen flick The Interview to both theaters and video-on-demand, according to vice president of National Association of Theater Owners Patrick Corcoran in a recent article in NATO publication Box Office Magazine.

"In this simultaneous-release game, Sony is $30 million in the hole and almost out of cards," wrote Corcoran in a post called "The Interview's Simultaneous Release Doesn't Change Anything".

"The only game changed here was just how much Sony left on the table," he adds. Polygon has reached out to Sony for comment.

Corcoran says it's difficult to estimate how much Sony is likely to take in overall from the film's digital release, but suggests $50 million is a generous assumption.

"Given the chaotic nature of the ad-hoc release plan and Sony's desperation to play the movie on any home-release platform that would take it, I'm going to assume, less generously, that Sony pockets 60 percent of that sum instead of the customary 70 percent," he continues.

The Interview was Sony's biggest online film success

As a result, Corcoran states Sony is likely to get back $30 million in VOD revenue, making a total of $33.5 million. This falls short of the film's $44 million production cost and marketing budget of at least $30 million.

"Let's be generous again and assume the same international box office that might have resulted from a traditional release--although with so many pirated pristine digital copies out in the wild, that may be tough. Add $10 million.

"We're at $43.5 million, and it has already had a home release. Frankly, the waters here are uncharted. Premium cable usually bases what they'll pay on theatrical performance--how do you measure that? Sony has announced a DVD/Blu-Ray release for February 17--what kind of disc sales and rentals will you get when it has already been in the home?"

The Interview's box office receipts have amounted to $5 million as of earlier this month. While the film expanded to 581 theaters last Friday for its second week of release, Sony originally intended to premiere the movie in as many as 3,000 screens nationwide for expected opening-weekend revenue of $20 million. That distribution would have been similar to other James Franco/Seth Rogen comedies such as 2008's Pineapple Express ($87.34 million total domestic gross) and 2013's This is the End ($101.47 million).

But do movies still need theaters?

Sony Pictures has noted that The Interview is the company's top-grossing online film ever, and indeed, the digital release is a milestone for a major studio such as Sony.

Sony said that The Interview made $15 million in digital receipts during its first four days of release, and $16 million from Dec. 28, 2014, through Jan. 4, 2015, reports CNN Money. The film was initially available through YouTube, Google Play, Xbox Video and a dedicated website. Last week, Sony expanded distribution to services such as its own Video Unlimited through the PlayStation Store, and Amazon Instant Video.

Following a threat from the group that hacked Sony Pictures in late November, major theater chains such as AMC Theaters and Regal Entertainment Group declined to show The Interview on its original planned release date, Christmas Day. Once the larger chains bowed out, Sony pulled the film. One week later, on Dec. 24, Sony released The Interview online, a day prior to the film's premiere on 331 screens across the U.S. in independently owned theaters.