Connected and 3D TV: Bratches: ESPN Continues To Embrace Leading Roles

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With its coverage of the Dallas Mavericks' stirring overtime win over Oklahoma City Thunder in the NBA playoffs last night, ESPN 3D aired its 106th live event
And to hear Sean Bratches, executive vice president, sales and marketing Disney & ESPN, tell, there's plenty more of those enhanced images where that came from.
Bratches, during his keynote address at NewBay Media's "Connected TV and 3D" conference at the Roosevelt Hotel here May 24, (NewBay Media is the parent of Multichannel News), painted a mostly sanguine picture of the format's advance to date and its potential for growth during the decade ahead.
Bratches said ESPN 3D is currently available to some 65 million homes, well ahead of where ESPN HD was at a similar stage in its growth cycle.
Since kicking off with the 2010 FIFA World Cup last June, ESPN 3D has now aired 106 events in the format, baseball, boxing, X Games, football and basketball contests, among them. He also noted that ESPN 3D worked in conjunction with SKY 3D to show the FA Cup final, won by Manchester City over Stoke, 10 days ago.
Moreover, Bratches said a lot more is on the way: the NBA Finals, five boxing matches, MLB's All-Star Game in Phoenix, and a couple of soccer matches involving Real Madrid versus MLS teams in the "World Football Challenge" this July.
ESPN 3D's own progress aside, he noted the format was picking up momentum for a variety of reasons: consumer awareness has advanced at double-digit rate since 2010; an expected fivefold increase in the number of 3D sets to be sold in 2011; price points are dropping significantly; 33 3D theatrical releases this year; and international network rollouts -- from Unity Media in Germany, Canal Plus in France and Sky in the U.K. - continue apace.
Pointing to estimates from Insight Media, Bratches said there could be 100 3D channels globally by 2015.
Still, he said there were obstacles to surmount. "Forty percent of consumers are confused by 3D technology," he said, adding that 70% indicate they have not made the jump to the new platform because they're "limited by the amount of content."
He said that ESPN and others are committed to finding ways to reduce production costs so that more content can feed the 3D pipeline.
"At ESPN, it's our intention to keep the needle moving," he said.
As for the connected side, Bratches, reiterating previous ESPN research on the subject, said that reports of cord-cutting were vastly overblown. He said network cord-cutting from multichannel video providers was less than one tenth of a percent. From whence the worldwide leader sits, cord-cutting among media and heavy sports fan is essentially non-existent, according to Bratches.
Instead, he preferred to talk up the prospects of "uncutters," those who have been broadband customers and are now becoming "two-cord homes."
Bratches mentioned the traction the company's WatchESPN app is receiving, while also discussing that ESPN is currently testing a variety of connected TV systems for next-generation platform delivery, including the Samsung Next Level App, where sports fans can glean in-depth info about the best events, players and news.
Pointing to ESPN's technology-agnostic bearing and its interest in remaining in the vanguard of new applications/devices/equipment, Bratches said the company is continually "looking to mine relationships with more CE vendors."

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