Sony: Controversial Film Breaks RecordMeanwhile, North Korea Blames U.S. for Internet Outages
In the latest twist in the saga of the Sony Pictures Entertainment hacking incident, the comedy film "The Interview" has stormed to on-demand success, taking in $15 million in online sales through Dec. 27. Sony Pictures says the movie is the studio's highest-grossing online release of all time.
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Sony released "The Interview" on Dec. 24 via YouTube, Google Play and Microsoft Xbox, as well as a dedicated movie website, after which it was downloaded more than 2 million times. The film was subsequently added to Apple iTunes on Dec. 28, where it can be rented for about $6 or bought outright for about $15. "We're pleased to offer 'The Interview' for rental or purchase on the iTunes Store," Apple spokesman Tom Neumayr says in a statement.
Meanwhile on Christmas Day, "The Interview" opened in about 330 independent cinemas, earning about $3 million through Dec. 27, Sony says.
"The Interview" centers on a tabloid TV reporting team that gets approached by the CIA to assassinate North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. The country's leadership, which is based in Pyongyang, has denounced the film.
The movie was originally set to open on 3,000 screens Christmas Day, with Sony estimating the film would earn $20 million in its opening weekend. But large theater chains balked at showing it after a group that calls itself Guardians of Peace, or G.O.P., issued a "terror" threat against cinemas that showed the film, leading Sony to cancel the film's release. After being criticized by President Obama, Sony relented and announced that it would make the movie available online and via independent and art house cinemas. It's still unclear, however, if Sony will recoup the estimated $75 million it spent to make and market the film, Variety reports.
While G.O.P. has claimed credit for hacking Sony - and claimed that the attack was related to "The Interview" - the FBI said that it traced the attack to North Korea. To date, however, the bureau has declined to publish detailed technical evidence to support that assertion, and many security experts say they're not convinced that the FBI's attribution is correct.
Pyongyang Repeats Sony Attack Denials
North Korea, repeating earlier denials, issued a Dec. 27 statement to the country's state-run KCNA news agency, saying that Pyongyang had nothing to do with the Sony Pictures hack. "If the U.S. is to persistently insist that the hacking attack was made by the DPRK, the U.S. should produce evidence without fail, though belatedly," a spokesman for North Korea's Policy Department of the National Defense Commission told KCNA.
Pyongyang also threatened "inescapable deadly blows" over his encouraging Sony Pictures to release "The Interview."
"Obama always goes reckless in words and deeds like a monkey in a tropical forest," an unnamed spokesman for the National Defense Commission said in a statement, which was published by KCNA, Reuters reports, noting that this isn't the first time that North Korea appears to have used terminology that is intended to cause racial offense.
The North Korean Internet connection and 3G mobile network, which have been unstable for the past week - and which experienced a roughly nine-hour outage on Dec. 23 - was again intermittently unavailable beginning on Dec. 27, reports state-run Chinese news agency Xinhua. The U.S. government has said it had nothing to do with those disruptions.
But North Korea has dismissed the U.S. government's statement. "The United States, with its large physical size and oblivious to the shame of playing hide and seek as children with runny noses would, has begun disrupting the Internet operations of the main media outlets of our republic," it said in a Dec. 27 statement.
Sony Restores PlayStation Service
Separately, both Sony and Microsoft have restored service to their gaming networks after they were disrupted on Christmas Day by the distributed denial-of-service gang that calls itself Lizard Squad. Microsoft said that Xbox Live was back online by Dec. 26, while Sony said that by Dec. 27 that it had restored PlayStation Network service.
Kim Dotcom, the controversial founder of the file-sharing site MegaUpload, and who now helms the cloud storage and file-hosting service Mega, claims to have sealed the peace deal that led to Lizard Squad calling off its attacks late on Dec. 25, after which the game networks began restoring some services. Dotcom says the negotiation also involved elements of Anonymous, as well as a group of self-proclaimed "white hat" hackers calling themselves Finest Squad. But the clincher appeared to be Dotcom offering Lizard Squad 3,000 free, lifetime vouchers for Mega if they would call off their DDoS attack and desist from further such attacks. The vouchers normally retail for $99, meaning that Dotcom offered the attackers the equivalent of about $300,000 to call off their attacks.