Dec 29, 2014 · 2 minutes

Sony Pictures Entertainment isn't happy about its secrets being made available to the world, but when it comes to raising awareness for "The Interview," the hacking often attributed to North Korea was probably a welcome boost for a widely-derided movie.

The film took the Internet by storm: it was the most popular video on YouTube the day after Christmas; its $15 million digital haul was more than five-times its box office earnings; and it proved popular enough to convince Apple to bring it to iTunes.

Perhaps the most surprising thing about the online release is that it didn't lead to more piracy than theatrical releases, at least according to TorrentFreak, which says the estimated 1.5 million illegal downloads of the film is comparable to other films.

That's especially surprising given the apparent ease with which the film could be downloaded from Sony's website. If that was the case here, might better solutions convince more studios to release films online alongside their theatrical release?

I'll admit up front there are some problems with using "The Interview" to support such hopes. Maybe it wasn't pirated all that often because it's not that good a film, and maybe it would've performed better in the box office if it wasn't available online.

But if a movie about two idiotic broadcasters being recruited to assassinate the already-comical leader of North Korea can find even a modicum of success with a concurrent release, I have to imagine other, better films would be able to as well.

Wouldn't it be nice to watch some films in the comfort of your own home instead of having to head to a movie theater, where the tickets are expensive and the refreshments are even more so, or wait for them to come out on digital platforms months later?

The biggest argument against that is the fear of pirates making a movie available to illegally download as soon as it starts streaming. Studies have shown, however, that many pirates are motivated by the inconvenience of official releases, not thriftiness.

That might even be the case with "The Interview": TorrentFreak suggests in its report that it might have been downloaded so often because Sony didn't make it readily available outside the United States, and the film has become a global spectacle.

So at the risk of drawing too many conclusions from a film starring Seth Rogen and James Franco, I think The Interview lends support to the idea that studios can release films online and in theaters. It seems like a win-win for consumers and studios alike. (It sucks for theaters, but there will always be fans of the big screen, particularly for big budget action spectacles like The Avengers.)

At least it shows that releasing a movie online isn't the end of the world -- or even a credible threat to American lives, like some thought "The Interview" might be.