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DirecTV Gets More 3DTV Game

Much as it did with HDTV and the initial race to offer 100 channels, DirecTV Group Inc. (NYSE: DTV) is already looking to take an early lead over its rivals with 3DTV, a platform that will be accessible to only a small fraction of its 18.56 million US customers in the early days.

Its latest salvo: becoming the first multichannel TV distributor to sign on to carry ESPN 3D, a part-time channel that's set to debut on June 11 with coverage of the World Cup match between tourney host South Africa and Mexico. (See DirecTV First to Commit to ESPN 3D and ESPN Jumps Into the 3DTV Game .)

The sports net expects to produce "up to" 25 more soccer matches in 3D during the soccer tourney, and a minimum of 85 live sporting events in the budding format during the channel's first year in existence. The channel itself will be active only when it's offering a 3D event. It will otherwise be dark. ESPN has not yet announced if it will license technology from RealD or another provider for its 3DTV productions.

DirecTV didn't say how much it's paying for the rights to carry ESPN 3D, but it will offer the new net at no additional cost to customers that already subscribe to ESPN's flagship channel.

The satellite giant is also getting ready to launch its first linear 3D channel, dubbed N3D, in June, alongside 3D video-on-demand and pay-per-view offerings. DirecTV will support those by delivering a free set-top software upgrade, but customers will still need 3D-capable TVs and glasses to view programming in the new format. (See DirecTV Won't Give Cable Access to 3D Nets.)

DirecTV said it intends to announce additional 3D partners throughout 2010. Panasonic Corp. (NYSE: PC) has signed on to sponsor the satco's N3D channel, which will offer a mix of shows and movies from a variety of programmers and studios, including AEG/AEG Digital Media, CBS Corp. (NYSE: CBS), Fox Sports/FSN, Golden Boy Promotions, HDNet, MTV, NBC Universal , and Turner Broadcasting System Inc.

Discovery Communications Inc. (Nasdaq: DISCA, DISCB, DISCK), along with partners Sony Corp. (NYSE: SNE) and IMAX Corp., plan to launch a full-time 3D channel in 2011, but have yet to announce a name for it or any initial carriage deals. (See Discovery Prez: New 3D Net Will Need 6MHz .)

Although DirecTV is grabbing an early lead in terms of 3DTV commitments, its competitors also have plans underway and still have plenty of time to get on board with ESPN before it launches the new network.

Cablevision Systems Corp. (NYSE: CVC) offered a National Hockey Game on the MSG network last week in 3D, and has tapped RealD to help it produce additional 3D content. Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ), meanwhile, plans to unveil a 3DTV package for FiOS TV later this year. (See Cablevision, Verizon Set Stage for 3DTV Battle .)

In the meantime, Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK), Cox Communications Inc. , and Time Warner Cable Inc. (NYSE: TWC) will provide limited 3DTV coverage of the Masters golf tournament starting April 7. (See Cox to Offer 3D Masters Coverage and Masters 3DTV Coverage Exclusive to Cable .)

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Light Reading Cable

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