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Networks Wary of Lofty 3D Production Costs

NEW YORK -- Programmers will have little incentive to produce sporting events and other content in 3D until the production costs are slashed, executives said here Wednesday.

A DirecTV Group Inc. (NYSE: DTV) executive told attendees at a PK World Media conference that the satellite provider finds it challenging to license enough 3D content to program its new 3D channels, while officials from ESPN and CBS Corp. (NYSE: CBS) said the industry must work to produce live sporting events simultaneously in both 2D and 3D, rather than shelling out money on separate productions. (See DirecTV Won't Give Cable Access to 3D Nets and Cable-Tec Expo: Lack of Standards Hinders 3DTV.)

"There is no way that my boss or company will allow us to get into the technology unless it's paid for," CBS Sports EVP of operations and technology Ken Aagaard said. CBS produced the Final Four games from the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament and the US Open Tennis Championship in 3D through a sponsorship with Panasonic Corp. (NYSE: PC).

Aagaard said CBS will continue to produce 3D sporting events on a "one-off" basis when it has support from a sponsor, or strikes deals to share production costs with other broadcasters and distributors.

ESPN VP of emerging technology Andrew Bailey said the sports network, which flipped the switch on ESPN 3D in July, is working with Sony Corp. (NYSE: SNE) and technology vendors to help keep production costs in check. ESPN deploys separate production trucks, cameras, and crews to produce college football and other events in 3D, he said. (See ESPN Jumps Into the 3DTV Game .)

"We have to work now at getting the costs down. We have to work at putting one mobile unit up to do the event, instead of the caravan we pull up now," Bailey added.

DirecTV VP of entertainment Patricia Ishimoto boasted that the top DBS provider is the first distributor to launch a dedicated 3D channel, but said that DirecTV has had difficulty finding enough 3D content to fill them. DirecTV is working with programmers ranging from A&E Television Networks to foreign pay-TV distributors such as Sky in the United Kingdom and Spain’s Sogecable SA to acquire 3D programming, she added.

"The challenges range from the dearth of existing content that is out there," Ishimoto added.

Also worth noting from Wednesday’s 3D panel:

  • Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) SVP of video product development Mark Hess said he would like to deliver 3D Broadway musicals and concerts to subscribers. "We tried to do Broadway shows once on cable TV. I think Broadway shows would work," he said. (See CTAM Summit: 3DTV Is Poised to Pop.)

  • Aagaard said he is a big proponent of passive 3D glasses, preferring those lenses to active shutter glasses, which can cost more than $100 each. "My eight-year-old daughter is not going to wreck these $100 glasses. When she brings 10 friends over, I want to be able to hand out paper glasses."

  • National Basketball Association EVP of operations and technology Steve Helmuth said ESPN and other sports networks can place robotic 3D cameras in new courtside positions without taking seats away from ticket holders. "We’re going to fit into Madison Square Garden without a single seat killed," he added.

  • Veteran industry analyst and investor Paul Kagan, who moderated the panel, said he is confident that all sports programming will eventually be produced in 3D. "This isn't an experimental thing at all for me. It's only a matter of time before it becomes standard operating procedure"

  • Discovery Communications Inc. (Nasdaq: DISCA, DISCB, DISCK) EVP of media Glenn Oakley gave a few examples of programming for the 3D network that Discovery, IMAX, and Sony plan to launch in 2011, including Discovery series Africa, Sony movie Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, and IMAX titles such as Magnificent Desolation: Walking on the Moon, which is narrated by Tom Hanks. Discovery, Sony, and IMAX still haven't settled on a brand for the 3D network. (See Discovery Prez: New 3D Net Will Need 6MHz .)

    — Steve Donohue, Special to Light Reading Cable

  • shygye75 12/5/2012 | 4:20:01 PM
    re: Networks Wary of Lofty 3D Production Costs

    There's always a catch, isn't there. Until production technologies hit the right cost point, DirecTV can fill out its lineup by running Avatar in an endless loop -- also known as the YLS (Yule Log Strategy).

    Jeff Baumgartner 12/5/2012 | 4:20:00 PM
    re: Networks Wary of Lofty 3D Production Costs

    Reminds me a bit of the early days of HDTV. I seem to recall similar complaints from programmers that were hesitant to jump into the fray right away. But, once again, Discovery and ESPN are trying to take first-mover advantage with the hope that a market for this contnet will develop. JB

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