Out of an abundance of caution and fear, Sony pulled The Interview, a movie about two television show executives played by Seth Rogen and James Franco who are recruited by the Central Intelligence Agency to assassinate the leader of North Korea, Kim Jong-un. The potential financial hit amounts to the production costs of the movie estimated to be about $42 million along with marketing expenditures to date. For the sake of argument, let's say Sony is in the hole for $60 million or so.
In Hollywood, that's small potatoes. For Sony, it's even smaller. Sony's revenue last year was roughly $75 billion of which its movie business only accounted for roughly 10%. A $60 million hit will sting but it is almost a rounding error.
What Sony has yet to recognize is the opportunity that was inadvertently handed to them by North Korea. Consumer awareness of the film has skyrocketed ever since Sony was hacked in retaliation for the film, which led to further threats to Sony, theaters and theater goers. That awareness is gold in Hollywood. And while Sony pulled the film due to fear of more attacks, that only heightens consumer interest in seeing what is being withheld from them. Interest in all things scarce is true in an array of categories. Prohibition intensified the allure of alcohol in the United States in the 1920's and early 1930's. A shortage of Cabbage Patch Kids in the mid 1980's sparked lines around toy stores. Controversy and scarcity has the potential to create pent-up demand. This is one way to achieve what I call marketable artistry.
But will Sony be wise enough to unleash that demand? To do so, Sony should consider the following. Once the U.S. government identifies North Korea as the culprit, it mitigates much of the angst because we would have someone to hold responsible. Those responsible are far less likely to exact further damage because they know there will be severe consequences. If futher threats are judged to be not credible, Sony should then announce a new release date for the film by pushing it just a few weeks. Waiting much time beyond that will diminish consumer interest.
There are many noble reasons why Sony should release the film, topping the list is freedom of artistic expression. But Hollywood is more apt to recognize the value of the dollar, and that dollar may soon be gone. Sony has a choice; take the financial hit or make a profit. They can continue to smell the fear or they can smell the opportunity.