TV in the Third Dimension: Stereoscopic 3D Marks the Next Big Event in Television's Development

By Fischer, Raymond L. | USA TODAY, January 2011 | Go to article overview

TV in the Third Dimension: Stereoscopic 3D Marks the Next Big Event in Television's Development


Fischer, Raymond L., USA TODAY


THE UNPRECEDENTED success of the blockbuster 3D movie "Avatar," the start-up of several 3D networks, and successful 3D broadcasts of sporting events and various entertainment have excited the public to want more. Television professionals feel the market has reached the "wow" stage. New 3D presentations at convention after convention have resulted in a buzz that stereoscopic 3D marks the next big event in television. However, some fundamental questions underlie the initial impact of 3D success: What is the potential for creating additional 3D channels? Will 3D channels produce quality programming? Will 3D television require expensive new sets? Will technology improve the glasses needed for viewing 3D television?

Since 2008, ESPN has been the driving force in developing the production aspect of 3D. The all-sports network has established a test lab in Orlando, Fla., and, working with the technology firm Pace, has produced a series of test broadcasts to perfect 3D production. During the 3DTV2010 conference last May in New York, television professionals agreed that production, transmission, and display technology were in place to bring 3D HD programming to market before the end of 2010.

Then, on June 11, the official launch of commercial 3D HD occurred when the ESPN 3D channel presented the FIFA World Cup soccer game between South Africa and Mexico. Sean Bratches, ESPN's executive VP of sales and marketing, stated during the conference that ESPN 3D would present "25 World Cup matches during its first month of operation, and close to 1130 3D events during its first year." With carriage already lined up on DirecTV and Comcast, "more than 40,000,000 homes" can receive broadcasts.

On its established networks, ESPN ran promotional spots for its 3D "This Is Sports Center" that featured announcer Stan Verett and the Los Angeles Dodgers' Andre Ethier. ESPN originally had concerns about attracting sponsors for its 3D network's presentations; however, electronics giant Sony agreed to sponsor the June 11 broadcast with commercials for Sony's 3D television sets. At the last minute, Proctor and Gamble contracted for showing 3D spots advertising its Gillette brand, and Disney's Pixar animation unit created 3D commercials for its 3D movie, "Toy Story 3." Following the broadcast, potential sponsors inundated ESPN with requests for information. According to ESPN's Tag Garson, senior director of acquisition strategy, companies want to be seen as tech-savvy by having their brands associated with 3D.

Following ESPN's lead, other networks am entering the 3D market. Telco Verizon, which has contracted to carry YES Network's 3D telecasts, made two July New York Yankees games available to TV customers in the New York area. DirecTV, working with Panasonic, also is broadcasting New York sports events. Avail-TVN indicates that it, too, should be providing 3D programming services, including transactional 3D-VOD (video on-demand) and a free on-demand 3D service. The company will provide both linear programming and VOD content to cable operators and telcos. Avail-TVN also plans to offer two linear 3D channels: a transactional PPV channel (pay per view) offering movies, concerts, events, and sports and a "free-to-the-consumer" promotional 3D channel that will provide features, documentaries, music, and specialty programming. Avail-TVN's 3D service will work with operators' existing infrastructure, and its 3D on-demand programs will be compatible with existing set-top boxes after minor software updates.

Cable programmer Discovery, Sony, and digital cinema firm IMAX have announced a joint venture to launch a stereoscopic 3D channel this year. Tom Cosgrove, who has been serving as executive VP and CEO for Discovery Channel, is moving to the new network as president and CEO. It will show 3D content from Discovery, Sony Pictures, IMAX, and other sources, while Sony Pictures Television will provide advertising sales-related service. …

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