LOS ANGELES (AFP/REUTERS) - Entertainment giant Sony released The Interview – a movie that outraged North Korea by lampooning dictator Kim Jong-Un – online for US viewers on Wednesday.
The madcap comedy became available for rent in the United States from 1800 GMT (2am Singapore time on Dec 25) on several platforms, one day before its Christmas Day limited theatrical release.
It was to be distributed on Google’s YouTube for US$5.99 (S$7.92), on the Google Play app for Android devices, on a dedicated website, seetheinterview.com, and on Microsoft’s Xbox Video after a brief announcement from the studio.
No cable or satellite TV operator has yet agreed to make The Interview available through video on demand, said Reuters.
“It was essential for our studio to release this movie, especially given the assault upon our business and our employees by those who wanted to stop free speech,” Sony Entertainment chief executive Michael Lynton said in the statement.
“We chose the path of digital distribution first so as to reach as many people as possible on opening day, and we continue to seek other partners and platforms to further expand the release.”
The movie, which stars Seth Rogen and James Franco and is about a fictional plot to assassinate North Korean leader Kim, triggered the most destructive cyber attack ever to target a US company, resulting in the release of hundreds of embarrassing e-mails and confidential data.
The future of the film had been in doubt after Sony said last week that it was cancelling the release following threats against moviegoers.
The US government blamed the attack on North Korea, reportedly angry at the film’s cartoonish portrayal of Kim’s communist regime, and President Barack Obama threatened reprisals.
But Sony also came under fire from the President and from free speech advocates and the studio quickly performed a volte face, vowing to give the film as wide a distribution as possible.
While some US movie theatre chains got cold feet after anonymous online threats, a limited number have agreed to show the film from Thursday, alongside the online release.
Google said on Wednesday it had weighed the security implications of screening the movie - a comedy whose depiction of the assassination of North Korea’s leader was blamed for a massive cyberattack - against the concept of free speech.
It said Sony had begun contacting a number of companies a week ago about making the film available online.
“Given everything that’s happened, the security implications were very much at the front of our minds,” Google’s chief legal officer David Drummond wrote in a blog post.
“But after discussing all the issues, Sony and Google agreed that we could not sit on the sidelines and allow a handful of people to determine the limits of free speech in another country (however silly the content might be).”