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Did The Interview Really Lose Sony $30 Million?

Scores of news sites went big with a weekend estimate that Sony could lose or already had lost $30 million on The Interview:

That is a big bag of cash. But where did the $30 million number come from?

Turns out it originated in an op-ed on BoxOffice.com by Patrick Corcoran, Vice President of the National Association of Theater Owners — which until now has been silent on The Interview debacle. Corcoran and the theaters he represents have major skin in this game: many thought (and, indeed, hoped) that The Interview’s forced release on streaming services thanks to a box office terror threat would jar Hollywood from its theater-first business model. The Interview, the thinking went, may have been released to YouTube, Amazon, iTunes and others under serious contingencies, but once studios saw how easy it was and how well it did, the practice would fast become normalized.

Needless to say, that would come at the expense of movie theaters, which Corcoran is tasked with protecting. He did some back of the napkin math, involving, by his own admission, a number of assumptions. Only after several paragraphs of this did he arrive at the headline number, essentially a guestimated projection.

“In this simultaneous-release game, Sony is $30 million in the hole and almost out of cards,” Corcoran wrote. “The only game changed here was just how much Sony left on the table.”

There’s a theory in journalism called the “vitality of mythical numbers,” in which a single figure, in absence of any others, is seized upon by media outlets and repeated until it becomes “true,” no matter how questionable its origins. The rapidity with which Corcoran’s estimate was churned into declarative headlines shows exactly how that process happens.*

It’s entirely possible Corcoran is right — he does know the industry. But his is just one estimate, and it was made in the interests of the businesses he represents. Wait for real figures before cementing “The Interview Loses Sony $30 Million” into the Zeitgeist.

* In fairness, some sites did indicate the source of the number in their headlines.

[Image via screengrab]

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