Avail-TVN: All 3D, All the Time
At The Cable Show, the video distribution firm said it will introduce two linear 3D channels: a premium level pay-per-view channel featuring movies, concerts, events, and sports fare, and a free "promotional" network with documentaries and other programming to give consumers a feel for that type of content and to give them a way to test their 3D sets and glasses. Avail-TVN will complement those channels with some on-demand 3DTV titles. (See Avail-TVN to Launch 3DTV Service.)
Avail-TVN is the fourth network or content aggregator to disclose a major 3DTV strategy. The part-time ESPN 3D channel is set to kick off next month. DirecTV Group Inc. (NYSE: DTV) has some 3DTV channels of its own in the works, and Discovery Communications Inc. (Nasdaq: DISCA, DISCB, DISCK) will be launching its first 3D offering in 2011. (See Discovery Prez: New 3D Net Will Need 6MHz , ESPN Jumps Into the 3DTV Game , and DirecTV Won't Give Cable Access to 3D Nets.)
Avail-TVN picked the fourth-quarter launch in part to coincide with this year's holiday shopping season, giving consumers more time to buy 3DTV sets. Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ) has also indicated that it will get its 3DTV ball rolling in time for the 2010 holiday season. (See Verizon Derides Cable 3DTV Efforts and Cablevision, Verizon Set Stage for 3DTV Battle .)
Although the number of 3DTV sets on the market remains small, "operators are asking for programming services they can point to," says Avail-TVN chief strategy officer Doug Sylvester, noting that there's a sizable window of opportunity for 3DTV network launches during the next 12 to 18 months.
Given the amount of content that's likely to be available early on, expect Avail-TVN to start off with part-time linear channels, similar to the approach ESPN is taking with its 3D channel.
Once there is enough content, Avail-TVN would like to grow its linear service to a full-time, 24-hour channel. And Avail-TVN is on the fence in terms of expanding its content menu by converting 2D fare to 3D. "Our goal is for programming that is captured live [in stereoscopic 3D format] initially, but we'll certainly be open to other approaches," Sylvester says.
Sylvester says it still isn't clear whether 3D content will demand higher prices, as has been the case with Hollywood movies.
Like the programming itself, Avail-TVN is still vetting its technological approach for 3D, though it's expected to start off with a "frame-compatible" platform that will enable most existing digital boxes to properly pass the signal through to 3D-capable TV sets.
Today's frame-compatible 3DTV content combines two half-resolution HD signals to make up the stereoscopic image, so linear or on-demand 3DTV services aren't expected to take up much more room than a full-resolution HDTV signal.
Because of that, Avail-TVN doesn't expect its 3DTV service to present much of a bandwidth issue at this stage, but it's is still deciding whether some services will be released in MPEG-2 or MPEG-4, or if it will use transcoding to deliver the format desired by specific affiliates.
— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Light Reading Cable