Cable Firms Tee Off In 3D

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Depending on his
tee times and performance, millions
can watch Tiger Woods’s
return to on-course action for
the first time since infidelity cost
him sponsors, and perhaps his
marriage, at The Masters this

A much smaller group of TV
and technology executives and
early adopters will be able to see
the world’s No. 1 golfer perform in
a 3D format that aims to stimulate
and titillate the visual senses
from the famed Augusta National
Golf Course.

At press time late Friday, Augusta
National Golf Club, which hosts The
Masters, had signed distribution
deals with Comcast, Cox Communications,
Time Warner Cable, Cablevision
Systems, Canada’s Shaw
Communiucations and a pair of
European operators to provide 3D
coverage of the Par 3 Tournament
on April 7.

Tourney play from April 8 to
11 will showcase holes 14, 16 and
18, with rotating coverage of holes
10-13 and 17.

Continuing a string of technological
firsts for the private club
— including the first HD production
in 1993 and the first golf tournament
presented live in HD on
network television in 2000 — The
Masters is billing the upcoming
coverage as the first live national
event in 3D available online and
on TV via multiple distributors.

The 3D Masters coverage will
be produced by ESPN and Pace.
Mike Tirico, Andy North and Terry
Gannon will be on the 3D call.

Comcast will ingest the feed
at the Comcast Media Center in
Denver and then transmit it to
customers using the 1080i, “sideby-
side” frame-compatible 3D
HD format.

Select Sony Style stores will
host live 3D coverage of The
Masters for demonstration purposes
of its new 3D sets. Sony
Electronics is the 3D sponsor of
the telecast, and is supplying the
advanced camera equipment
around the course.

Comcast officials, speaking at
the SportsNet New York studios in
Manhattan on March 31 during a
3D demonstration of club pros
playing Augusta National about
a month ago, said the telecast will
only be available to thousands of
homes with high-definition settops
and 3D-capable TV sets.

The Consumer Electronics Association
projects about 1 million
sets with that functionality
will be sold in the U.S. this year,
or less than 3% of total U.S. TV

Still, the enhanced coverage
of The Masters will cap a flurry of
activity in the emerging 3D space,
where prospective stakeholders
continue to plant their flags in the
nascent field.

CBS, LG Electronics and Cinedigm
Digital Cinema were set to
tip off the Final Four — the national
semifinals of the 2010 NCAA
Men’s Division I Basketball Championship
— on April 3, as well as
the final on April 5, in 3D to theaters
around the nation.

DirecTV became the first distributor
for ESPN 3D, which will
bow in June alongside the DBS
leader’s trio of dedicated 3D channels. According to sources,
Cablevision, which declined
comment, will also carry ESPN
3D when it kicks off on June 11
with the opening match of the
FIFA World Cup between host
nation South Africa and Mexico.

On March 24, regional sports
network MSG sent out the first
3D hockey match in America exclusively
to Cablevision homes
with its coverage of the New York
Rangers’ 5-0 win over the New
York Islanders.

Although Comcast said ESPN
and Discovery are talking to all
affiliates about their 3D channels,
the top cable operator for
now seems inclined to tap the
technology on a one-off and video-
on-demand basis, rather than
establishing dedicated channels.

Derek Harrar, Comcast’s senior
vice president and general manager
of video and entertainment
services, said there is not enough
product at the moment to support
a channel commitment. But the
response to five 3D VOD events
Comcast has offered over the past
two years — concerts from Miley
Cyrus, star of Hannah Montana,
and the Jonas Brothers, as well as
theatricals Final Destination, My
Bloody Valentine and Coraline
— suggests an appetite for such
advanced fare. Harrar said 3D accounted
for 16% of the VOD views
for that content, as opposed to the
typical 20% to 25% in HD for theatricals.

In addition to live 3D airings of
The Masters on an ad hoc channel,
Comcast is currently making
“Masters Moments” content
available on-demand in standard
and HD formats, with 3D highlights
becoming available April 8
as part of its VOD offering, which
generates some 350 million views
per month.

Time Warner Cable won’t show
the 3D tournament coverage live
to its customer base on a linear
network. Instead, it will be available
on its local systems’ Web
sites and via a 3D Masters VOD

The nation’s No. 2 cable operator,
though, will showcase the
3D event live at viewing parties
at the Time Warner Center (two
events) in New York, as well as
golf courses in its service areas
in San Diego (two) and Charlotte

Cablevision will present The
Masters 3D action on channel
1300 this week and will also
be off ering Masters fare on-demand.

At the March 31 demonstration
event in New York, the 3D
footage depicted the club pros in
action, which gave viewers a better
sense for their skills in blasting
out of sand traps and sinking
long putts, and of the beauty of
the picturesque course.

Mark Hess, senior vice president
of video product development
at Comcast, said he played
Augusta National once and that
standard and HD formats do not
do justice to the course’s undulating
greens, contours and dramatic
shifts in elevation. But 3D

Although there was nothing
scheduled, Hess anticipates that
Comcast-owned Golf Channel
could jump onto the 3D course.

“[Network president] Page
Thompson is a big golf fan. That’s
a natural,” said Hess, who anticipates
that other marquee events
like the Academy Awards and the
Big Game will soon be shot in the
format. “I’d be really surprised if
the Super Bowl isn’t in 3D.”