What is Kernel? The Stealth Startup Sony Tapped to Stream ‘The Interview’ (Exclusive)

What is Kernel? The Stealth Startup

The digital distribution of “The Interview” has become the coming-out party for an interesting new venture operating in stealth mode in partnership with Sony Pictures.

The branding for Kernel is prominently displayed on the website on Seetheinterview.com, one of the digital homes Sony announced Wednesday would be streaming the controversial film day and date with hundreds of independent movie theaters.

But Kernel actually isn’t just what it appears to be on the website it built with Sony and other vendors, including online payment processor Stripe. The startup stepped into the crucial role of hosting the stream because of a pre-existing relationship with the movie studio to handle a very different task: To launch an innovative marketing campaign for “The 5th Wave,” a new action franchise starring Chloe Grace Moretz that Sony just began promoting Tuesday night even though it doesn’t bow in theaters until January 2016.

In an interview Wednesday with Variety, Kernel CEO David Harvilicz disclosed that Sony reached out because of his company’s streaming capabilities. “Sony has been working very hard to get this film out,” he said. “They believe in defending the freedom of expression.”

Sony declined comment on Kernel, referring an inquiry to the company’s website.

While Harvilicz declined to discuss specifics of the arrangement, he made clear that cybersecurity experts conducted a risk assessment of Sony’s streaming efforts and concluded that it would be safe from any hack attack. While he acknowledged seetheinterview.com was a little buggy in the first 20 minutes of its launch, the site wasn’t experiencing any difficulties in its first few hours of operation.

The link to Kernel on Seetheinterview.com is now also serving as an unintentional showcase for the effort Sony hired the company approximately one year ago to undertake: Begin the buzz for “The 5th Wave,” the first in a series of books from author Rick Yancey about a teenage girl (played by Moretz) fighting the end of the world.

But what Kernel attempts to do is not only get the buzz going but convert it into revenues by pre-selling theater tickets to the movie, along with various other bonus features like digital downloads, exclusive behind-the-scenes content, scripts and posters. The presold packages–known as a KernelPass–begin at $35 and go all the way up to a limited $1,000 offering that comes with two tickets to the movie’s premiere.

It’s a variation on the crowdfunding model popularized by Kickstarter that hasn’t been employed much by the major studios with the notable exception of Warner Bros.’ experiment with “Veronica Mars.” In addition to the early revenue flow, what may be of more value to the studios is data on audience behavior that allows them to fine-tune the targeting of their marketing efforts.

Moretz shot a video explaining Kernel that was uploaded to YouTube on Tuesday, but has yet to be distributed by the actress to her social-media base, which includes 1.36 million Twitter followers.

“This is a new way to market films,” said Harvilicz. “It allows fans to get close to the films they love much earlier than they could before.”

Harvilicz has some heavy hitters in Kernel’s corner, including lead investor John Mackey, one of the founders and CEOs of the Whole Foods Markets grocery chain. Mackey serves on Kernel’s advisory board with Roy Salter, a Hollywood veteran who is senior managing director at FTI Consulting, and Thomas Tippl, COO of Activision.

“The 5th Wave” is expected to be just the first movie to utilize the Kernel platform; Harvilicz says his company is in various stages of negotiation with other studios to support other upcoming films.

Directed by J Blakeson from a screenplay by Susannah Grant, “The 5th Wave” is produced by Tobey Maguire, Graham King, Lynn Harris and Matthew Plouffe. Executive producers are Denis O’Sullivan and Richard Middleton.

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  2. Barry says:

    Running into the same issue that Art did. Appears to be downloading versus streaming. For whatever reason the movie doesn’t stream… ripoff!!!

  3. Michael says:

    You click the link while using Google chrome and it works immediately. All others that I tried looked like it was frozen or downloading… On iPhone and ipad it played immediately too… But not on safari on my computer…

  4. Art says:

    I tried to watch The Interview on the Kernel, what a nightmare. Not the movie, which I couldn’t watch, it took 4 1/2 hours to down load. It was 3 AM in the morning when it finally downloaded, I turned off the computer and went to bed. Turned on the computer the next day to watch it, it started to download again. Then when it finally downloaded the message came up, format not supported. I have Windows 7, how could this be not supported? Wrote an e-mail to see about getting my money back, of course, no answer. What a rip off!

    • seetheinterview says:

      Art – the movie is suppose to stream from the site not download. It plays in the browser no different than YouTube. Check to see if you have the latest version of adobe flash player.

  5. We were conditioned by years of “hacks” (at Target, Home Depot, Sony…), and now the ultimate boogeyman N Korea is the perfect scapegoat to usher in new draconian cyber legislation for the 21st century. Enjoy your future of government controlled internet, more Big Brother on our PCs, and they shaped it so we’d see it as a savior, not a growing police state.

  6. Call Me Al says:

    Kernel Films is doing a bang up job with The Interview as they are streaming it right now in the open without any security and right click to download active. The unsecure URL to the movie is floating around all over the internet right now. :)

  7. No one should pay to see this dreck and reward Sony’s cowardice.

  8. Mia says:

    Well, well, well Sony. Those marketing stunt rumors are lookinga bif more creditable!!! I’m just saying.

  9. Gman says:

    I must be missing something – access to downloads , promo items etc. this is nothing exciting or new. Same regurgitated crap. one way push out – no dynamic engagement with the audience – just give me money – tired play that consumers are exhausted by.

  10. Zoey Tur says:

    David Harvilicz is a genius! Congratulations.

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