‘The Interview’ begins streaming on iTunes

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Movie poster for "The Interview" starring James Franco and Seth Rogen. (Credit: MGN Online)

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) — Sony Pictures is expanding its digital distribution of “The Interview” — striking a deal with Apple’s iTunes store over the weekend — while counting up box office revenues from the movie’s first few days in theaters.

The movie studio won’t release any data about revenues from online rentals, but through Sunday “The Interview” is expected to make about $2.8 million at the 331 independently-owned theaters that have been showing it since Christmas Day.

This is about in line with industry expectations. Had it opened in the 2,000 to 3,000 theaters it was originally scheduled to be in, the movie would have made far more. But security fears scuttled that release two weeks ago and led to a hybrid in-theater and at-home release plan.

That’s how Sony un-canceled the movie last week, with the help of independent theaters and online stores like Google’s YouTube. (Some of the big theater chains would have considered showing the movie, but they objected to online distribution while the movie was in theaters.)

And now Hollywood is eager to find out how many people rented “The Interview” versus how many trekked out to theaters to see it. Sony executives have hinted that the rental numbers have been strong, but won’t divulge any specifics.

“While this is a completely unprecedented circumstance without proper comparisons, we are very pleased with how it is doing both theatrically where we are seeing numerous sell-outs across the country, and online where it remains at the top of many charts,” Sony Pictures president of worldwide distribution Rory Bruer said in a statement on Sunday.

The movie was initially available through YouTube, Google Play, Microsoft’s Xbox video store, and a dedicated Sony web site. At 1 p.m. Sunday, it was also made available through Apple’s iTunes store, a development first reported by Re/code. The addition of Apple is noteworthy because an earlier distribution deal between Apple and Sony fell apart last week.

“The Interview” is still not available through Sony’s PlayStation video store. The PlayStation Network has been plagued by an apparently unrelated outage in recent days.

To encourage more rentals of the movie, Seth Rogen, his co-star James Franco and co-director Evan Goldberg are planning to watch it and live-tweet about it at 5 p.m. Eastern on Sunday. A twist on the notion of “social TV,” the trio will share jokes and behind the scenes details via their respective Twitter accounts.

One Twitter executive dubbed the social networking site “the world’s biggest movie theater.” The site has been promoting the live-tweeting session extensively.

In a statement about the weekend box office numbers, Rogen said, “The fact that people actually left their houses when they had the option of staying home is amazing.”