A large poster advertising the movie The Interview hangs on the back wall of the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema Tuesday, Dec. 23, 2014.
A large poster advertising the movie The Interview hangs on the back wall of the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema Tuesday, Dec. 23, 2014.

Sony Pictures has started distributing the controversial comedy "The Interview" online a day after announcing that 200 independent theaters will screen the movie on Christmas Day.

The movie, was released at 1700 UTC Wednesday and will be available across several digital platforms including YouTube, Google Play, and Microsoft Xbox.

In a statement, Sony said it was essential to release the movie, "especially given the assault upon our business by those who wanted to stop free speech".

Sony pulled The Interview from general release last week after several large U.S. theater chains said they would refuse to show it because of threats of violence.

The comedy tells the story of two journalists who are recruited by U.S. intelligence to assassinate North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

On Wednesday, Sony reversed its decision to cancel the movie, announcing a "limited theatrical release" that will see the film shown in dozens of theaters on December 25.

In a statement, White House spokesman Eric Schultz said the president welcomed the move, which he said "allows people to make their own choices about the film."

President Barack Obama had said Sony made a "mistake" in canceling the movie, saying it risks setting a precedent in which "dictators can start imposing censorship" in the U.S.

The Obama administration has vowed to respond to the cyber attack on Sony, but officials would not confirm or deny whether the U.S. retaliated by causing a brief North Korean Internet outage this week.

State Department deputy spokesperson Marie Harf would not comment on the matter.

"I leave it to the North Koreans to talk about if their Internet was up, if it wasn't, and why," she said. "We're just not going to entertain questions one way or the other about any of these questions about possible U.S. responses of any kind. And I would caution you from assuming, that because I'm not going to comment on them, that the answer means one thing or another."

The U.S.-based Internet monitoring company Dyn Research said the reason for the outage is not clear, but was consistent with "a fragile network under external attack."

North Korea has not commented on the disruption, which lasted about nine hours. But it has adamantly denied involvement in hacking Sony Pictures.

The FBI says it has evidence Pyongyang was behind the cyber hack, which resulted in leaks of embarrassing corporate emails, yet to be released films, and private employee data.

The hackers call themselves the "Guardians of Peace" and warned there would be a "bitter fate" for anyone attending a showing of The Interview.