News

NBA, Turner Play 3-D Ball

12/12/2008 7:00 PM Eastern

The National Basketball Association and Turner Sports will transmit a live 3-D telecast of events leading up to the league’s All-Star Game next February to 80 movie theaters in 35 states.

Turner executives hope the move will lead to further 3-D HD experiments with potential of moving it to the home or broadband-based telecasts.

The Feb. 14, 2009, broadcast of the NBA’s All-Star Saturday night festivities from Phoenix will mark the first time a 3-D sporting event has been made available to the public nationwide, according to the companies.

“There’s been a lot of testing of this product, but for us this is about pushing the boundaries of technology, whether it’s been digital expansion of league sites or testing different camera angles or voting,” said Turner Sports president David Levy who added the various theaters will market TNT’s All-Star Saturday Night event in advance of the festivities.

Tickets for the event, featuring a slam-dunk competition among pro-basketball notables, are expected to retail for $18 to $22, according to Cinedigm Digital Cinema, which is providing 3-D production and distribution services. The value of the contract was not disclosed.

Analysts expect 3-D broadcasts to the home to be several years off, but interest in the technology has run high for sports, concerts and other live events transmitted to movie theaters.

Last week, in an invitation-only event, National Football League tested a 3-D broadcast of the NFL Network’s Dec. 4 San Diego Chargers-Oakland Raiders night game to theaters in New York, Los Angeles and Boston.

For its part, Fox will show the BCS championship game on Jan. 8 in 3-D HD in select theatres. However, the network has not yet identified which markets and theaters will exhibit the enhanced college football championship game.

The NBA also has featured live 3-D broadcasts before. Last season, the Dallas Mavericks produced and delivered the first live 3-D sporting event to a movie theater in Dallas to 500 fans. The league also hosted special viewing parties for the 2007 All-Star Game.

The 2009 All-Star Game, however, will not be offered in 3-D. Executives are hoping the theater event draws interest to TNT’s telecast of the main event on Feb. 15 at 8 p.m. (ET).

Moreover, the Saturday events provide more opportunities to showcase the 3-D technology, Turner Sports spokeswoman Tara August said.

“This is really about the high flying moves and the slam-dunk contest,” she said. “There’s a lot of action that you don’t traditionally get in a regular game.”

TNT’s broadcast of the NBA All-Star Saturday night last year was the most-watched in the event’s 23-year history, although viewership for the All-Star Game was down 9% from the year prior. The network’s exclusive coverage of NBA All-Star Weekend will tip off Friday, Feb. 13 at 9 p.m. ET with the T-Mobile Rookie Challenge and Youth Jam.

The live 3-D HD event will be shown on as many as 160 screens. Theater-goers will be required to don special glasses to experience the 3-D effect. Participating theater chains include Carmike Cinemas, Celebration Cinemas, Cinema West, Emagine and Galaxy Theatres. A full list of theaters is available at cinedigmentertainment.com.

Cinedigm will work with a yet-to-be-determined 3-D video capture firm to supply the camera equipment for the telecast, spokeswoman Suzanne Howard said.

Morristown, N.J.-based Cinedigm — which recently changed its name from AccessIT — last week announced it has secured $8.9 million in credit to fund the deployment of its digital cinema projection systems in Premiere Cinemas theaters. The publicly held company has installed more than 3,700 digital cinema systems over the past two years in the first phase of its rollout, and eventually expects to deploy 10,000.

R. Thomas Umstead contributed to this story.

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