The Thin Blue 3D Line - Simon Applebaum - MediaBizBloggers

By Simon Applebaum TV / Video Download Archives

Year one of the 3D TV era...how's it going?

We know there are two ventures available nationally--ESPN 3D and the n3D trio of channels at DirecTV. The Discovery Communications/Sony/Imax network is in play for rollout early in 2011. Beyond that, we don't know much. No other programmer has disclosed plans to jump into this arena. And until early 2011, we'll be in the dark about how many households have picked up 3D sets this year, or how many of those sets have been tuned into original 3D content.

That leaves us with tea leaves, plenty of them from various parties, to chow through.

They break down into two categories: pace of this 3D movement now, and the pace later. Many of these tea leaves fell for our exploration last week, during and on either side of media analyst Paul Kagan's 3D conference in New York.

Quick aside: it's been a long time since Kagan, whose Big Apple events on the current/future trends of cable and broadcast TV were must-catch events for reporters in the 1980s and 90s, has surfaced to showcase a trend in progress. Welcome back, Paul--and don't wait so long to do another. (Interactive TV, video telephony or Google TV, perhaps?)

On the current pace of 3D set buys, Avatar producer Jon Landau declared "there will be more 3D sets sold this year than anyone could have imagined 16 months ago" at the Kagan conference. However, when Samsung, Sony and Sharp reported their latest quarterly earnings last week, all three set makers projected TV set demand will be weak for the last three months of 2010, including the hugely-important December holiday period.

"It's still a tough macroeconomic environment out there, and if you're not feeling great about the economy, it's easy to delay that TV purchase," BB&T Capital Markets analyst Anthony Chukumba told Reuters correspondent Liana Baker last week. Back at the Kagan conference, Scaler Media founding partner Frank Hawkins put 3D "in the early trickle stage," not as much due to the economy as due to a classic ying/yang situation. People won't consider purchasing 3D sets if there's not enough 3D programming to watch, while content makers won't make their work in 3D if there's a small household universe able to watch, Hawkins concluded.

From what Hawkins and other Kagan panelists shared, you sense how fast 3D TV catches on depends on how soon all parties involved resolve this ying/yang. It's not unconquerable; the motion picture side of entertainment came up with a way in the last few years, amid less than 50 percent of theaters capable of running 3D films. It will have to be multi-step in nature, Hawkins pointed out. Here's a summary of his steps:

1) Find innovators willing to produce original work without having a big set universe in place.

2) Raise consumer adoption of 3D sets by educating people better, especially about 3D glasses.

3) Improve the infrastructure--have multichannel cable and satellite distributors run 2D/3D services side-by-side on their outlets, just as they do with standard/high-definition feeds.

4) Expand the pool of production talent doing 3D.

5) Have producers shoot sports and other live events in both 2D/3D, and distribute them in separate formats.

6) Get more funding sources involved in the creation of new programming, channels and services. 7) Standardize all 3D equipment (sets, cameras and glasses) 8) Come up with innovative ways to get the message across that you miss something if you don't see content in 3D.

Sounds like a winning plan to me. One that keeps the pace of 3D set and programming adoption on an upward track in 2011 and thereafter. One insuring that when master filmmakers like Martin Scorsese and Spike Lee do TV projects, they'll be gung-ho about making them in 3D as they are now for films. (As stunning as Boardwalk Empire is in HD, just consider a quantum-stunning presentation for that HBO series in 3D.)

"They will want to do all their content in 3D as the infrastructure builds up because their audiences will expect that," Landau told me at Kagan.

You want 3D to catch on faster with the public? Move fast and put this ying/yang in the past. Other observations from the passing parade: Fox & Cablevision Systems worked out a retransmission consent deal last weekend, two weeks after more than three million New York area Cablevision customers had their local Fox stations, Fox Business Channel and National Geographic Wild go dark. And once again, neither party discloses the terms of this agreement, after engaging the public in this fracas that cost them access to the first two World Series games, among other programming highlights. If you involve the public, go public with the terms--they have a right to know and you have a duty to provide it.

Many skeptics over Toshiba's introduction next month of a glasses-free 3D set in one way or another. But at last week's Kagan conference, technology start-up 3D Fusion introduced its own glasses-free model that, at initial glance in a hotel suite, looked pretty good. Keep an eye on what they're doing. For the future, two suggestions for whoever handles this company's PR: If you're going to hold demos during someone's conference, do them when the conference is on break. Not nice to undermine the event that showcases you. And if the company's president is speaking (Stephen Blumenthal), watch out for technology babble. Break it down so we all understand. Blumenthal didn't, and all that jargon undermined both his conference remarks and credibility for his venture.

Until the next time, stay well and stay tuned!

Simon Applebaum hosts and produces Tomorrow Will Be Televised, the Internet radio program covering the TV scene. Tomorrow runs live Mondays/Fridays at 3 p.m. Eastern time, noon Pacific time, over www.blogtalkradio.com, and on replay 24/7 at www.blogtalkradio.com/simonapple04. Segments are available on podcast through ITunes.com, 17 other Web sites arranged by Sonibyte, TiVo and Cable in the Classroom. Have questions or reaction? E-mail them to simonapple04@yahoo.com.

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