DirecTV will become the first pay-TV provider to launch 3net, the 24-hour 3DTV channel from Discovery Communications, Sony and IMAX, with a launch set for Feb. 13, the companies announced Thursday.
The satellite operator has aggressively jumped into 3D, hoping to replicate the marketing lead it established in HD a few years ago before cable caught up -- and DirecTV was widely expected to be among the first providers to carry 3net, which will feature a mélange of documentaries, movies and original series.
Still, it's not clear how many consumers have 3DTVs that are capable
of receiving the programming. Consumer electronics companies reported disappointing sales of 3D sets in 2010.
On DirecTV, 3net will go live at 8 p.m. ET on channel 107 with three one-hour documentaries: China Revealed, Into the Deep 3D and Forgotten Planet. The network promises to debut a new program every night in February at 9 p.m. ET, and is shooting to deliver the industry's largest library of native 3D content by the end of 2011.
DirecTV currently offers its own 24-hour channel, n3D, which is sponsored by Panasonic, as well as 3D movies on demand through its DirecTV Cinema service.
The announcement comes as ESPN 3D is set to become a 24-hour channel on Feb. 14, although the vast majority of its lineup will consist of game replays. DirecTV carries the network, along with Comcast, Time Warner Cable and AT&T U-verse TV.
"Quality 3D programming is vital to the success and increased adoption of the technology, and with industry leaders like Discovery, Sony and IMAX making a commitment to this category, it is clear that 3D is here to stay and is only going to get better," Derek Chang, DirecTV executive vice president of content strategy and development, said in a statement. "We are excited to be the first distributor to announce the launch of 3net and we look forward to continuing to provide our customers with the largest and most compelling 3D programming lineup available."
Discovery, which is handling distribution on behalf of the JV, is continuing "to have discussions with distributors and [we] are very excited around their interest in 3D and more specifically, around the new high-quality network we are offering now in 3net," a company spokeswoman said.
DirecTV does not charge extra for access to its 3D programming, which is available to any of the satellite TV operator's customers who subscribe to an HD package. The Discovery spokeswoman declined to say whether 3net affiliates are being offered the option to put the channel on a premium tier. The carriage deal was specifically between DirecTV and the 3net joint venture, apart from deals for other Discovery properties, she said.
Discovery, Sony and IMAX announced 3net as the network's name at CES in January. Previously it had been doing business under the placeholder name "3DNet LLC."
During a presentation at CES, Sony president and CEO Sir Howard Stringer downplayed the slow uptake of 3DTV. He alluded to past innovations in TV technology, including color TV and HD, pointing out that "those were greeted with initial skepticism."
Discovery president and CEO David Zaslav maintained that 3net fits into the company's strategy of focusing on "delivering groundbreaking content" through new platforms and technologies.
"The launch of 3net represents a giant leap in our march to bring audiences the closest-to-real viewing experiences," Zaslav said in a statement.
Other shows scheduled to run on 3net include Hubble 3D, a film from IMAX and Warner Bros. Pictures produced in cooperation with NASA; In The Qube 3D, an original series covering 3D movie and television entertainment, gaming and technology produced by Sony Pictures Television; and Discovery's Wildebeest Migration.
Also in the queue are Sony's Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs and Monster House; Magnificent Desolation: Walking on the Moon 3D; Space Station 3D; and The Haunted.