It’s not often that a film release becomes national news.

But when The Interview was pulled from distribution following threats from hackers referencing 9/11, it was unavoidable that the movie would creep into the national conversation. The obvious follow up question became, “was this the right move?”

Our own Ashley McCown commented on the situation, noting its unprecedented nature. There wasn’t really any reference book as to what would work and what wouldn’t. With the ever-increasing importance of cyber security, though, you can bet that CEOs around the world are taking notes on how Sony handles these assaults.

The decision to cancel the movie was not well received. By cancelling the distribution, our right to free speech was threatened. President Obama flat-out said it was the wrong move.  Newt Gingrich, among others, also criticized it, albeit with far more rhetoric. So why did Sony do it?

Because Sony is protecting its bottom line.

For starters, there’s very likely a strong fear component. Given the depth of the hacking and the fact that it’s linked to a frightening entity like North Korea, the threats had to be unsettling for Sony. If they called the hackers’ bluff and an attack occurred, could they face the consequences? While the emotional guilt would almost assuredly burden Sony execs, there’s also the matter of public perception. Reaction to an attack likely would have resulted in fingers being pointed at Sony, probably with remarks about putting profit over safety. But it’s entirely possible that in cancelling the movie, Sony evaluated both and felt that course of action supported each.

An editorial from The Boston Globe reminded readers that the theater chain Cinemark faces a lawsuit following the Aurora, Colorado shootings for failing to stop the threat before it happened. If an attack were perpetrated by the hackers or any other group, Sony would likely face numerous lawsuits from theater owners, moviegoers, and other stakeholders. It’s speculation that an attack would occur in more than one location, but it’s a risk that must be considered.  

If the threat materialized into an attack, what happens the next time a threat is made? You can bet that movie attendance would drop in the immediate aftermath of an attack and in response to future threats. Attacks around The Interview will be on Americans’ minds with every new warning. The result is lost profit for both the theaters and Sony.

The decision to pull this movie may have been rooted in protecting theatergoers, but ultimately it serves to protect Sony. Critics have opined on the absence of American values in the decision, namely protection of the First Amendment and not “Letting the Terrorists Win,” but Sony is a corporation with its own interests to serve. And even though people can be mad at Sony, it won’t stop people from seeing their movies because the film distributor is far from the public consciousness. By being conservative and playing it safe, they’re protecting long-term interests.