3-D Not Ready for Primetime


While sold on the virtues of the high-definition format, executives on a Promax/BDA panel here last week were more guarded in their appraisal of 3-D as a game-changer for sports programming.

Mark Waller, senior vice president sales and marketing for the National Football League, said pro football was “a mind-blowing experience in 3-D, better than HD.” NFL Network simulcast the Oakland Raiders-San Diego Chargers game on Dec. 4, 2008 in HD into select theaters.

Waller, though, said the impediment to broader availability fell to the “relative cost” of consistently delivering a high-quality telecast in the format.

Similarly, ESPN executive vice president of sales and marketing Sean Bratches said that while the total sports network has various committees examining 3-D, it won’t really consider the product to be ready for primetime (or other dayparts) until it’s “an in-home experience without glasses.”

Conversely, HD is a proven winner for the worldwide leader. Bratches said that ESPN’s ratings are 46% higher in HD homes: “HD doesn’t apply to all shows; it’s sports and everything else.”

Dana White, whose Ultimate Fighting Championship and World Extreme Cagefighting ring-sports circuits benefit from exposure on Spike TV and Versus, respectively, reported strong pay-per-view trends with HD. White said UFC’s HD PPV buys “go up with every fight,” even though the cost of the cards is $10 more than in the standard format. “There are more people with HD sets and HD set-top boxes,” the UFC president noted.

Brian Diamond, senior vice president sports and special at Spike, who acknowledged that the male-targeted network was late to the game with HD, didn’t see 3-D becoming a major factor for TV for another five to 10 years.

The panelists also discussed the impact the recession is having on their businesses.

Bratches said ESPN’s rating are up, and being pumped by various digital arms, but conceded the sports giant is “feeling the effects of the economy. Our distribution side is solid and ad sales are challenging” at the moment.

Waller said National Football League clubs were deep into selling season ticket renewals and that it was “tougher than last year.”

Mark Fein, executive vice president, programming, production and business operations at Versus, said the Comcast-owned national sports service has been looking for more efficient ways to do business and “staying on plan” with such entities as the National Hockey League and WEC, both of which are showing Nielsen gains.

For his part, White said UFC had not seen a slowdown, noting that business is up 38%, with both PPV and ticket revenue both ahead.

“Folks don’t watch UFC alone. Eight to 10 guys kick in for the pay-per-view, the pizza and the beer,” he said, posing the query, “where would we be if the economy” were growing?

The panel was moderated by SportsBusiness Journal media writer John Ourand.