After kicking off the service to high hopes with the FIFA World Cup in June 2010, ESPN3D has missed the net. Citing the lack of consumer interest in the enhanced format, the network said it will close by year-end.
Through deals with the top six U.S. distributors, ESPN3D is available to some 75 million homes although only a limited number of customers actually subscribe to it.
Several years back, with Hollywood embracing the format following the blockbuster success of James Cameron’s Avatar, the idea was that 3D would follow in the footsteps of high-definition as a must-have format for consumers. But high production costs, expensive TVs and the requirement for consumers to don special glasses to enjoy the 3D views have curtailed demand on the small screen.
ESPN’s impending exit leaves 3net — Discovery Communications, Sony and Imax’s 24-hour-aday 3D channel that launched in February 2011 and Comcast’s Xfinity 3D, which presents concerts, events and movies in the format — to pursue distribution and viewership in the space.
“Although we don’t comment on the activities of other companies, their decision has no impact on our business,” the joint venture said in a statement. 3net is carried by distributors reaching 40 million homes, and 3net Studios is involved in the production in an array of 3D and 4K ultra high-definition technology projects.
It was unclear how many more events ESPN will produce in 3D as it winds down the network. A spokeswoman said ESPN3D, which has presented some 380 events to date, including high-profile matchups like college football’s BCS National Championship Game, will produce some of the upcoming Wimbledon tennis tourney in the format, but didn’t delineate the rest of the schedule. In the past, it has presented some Little League World Series games in August and certain college football contests during the fall.
A specific end date has not been determined and it was uncertain when affiliates might want to drop the service. “We’re just beginning to have those conversations with distributors,” the spokeswoman said.
Last year, DirecTV, which carries ESPN3D and 3net, relegated its own 24-hour n3D service to part-time status, where it sometimes offers events in the format. The satellite-TV leader also offers 3D movie titles on its DirecTV Cinema pay-per-view service.
ESPN3D is currently offered on Comcast, DirecTV, Time Warner Cable, Cox Communications, Bright House Networks and Verizon Communications’ FiOS TV, ESPN said. To view the channel, a customer typically had to purchase a 3D level of service. SNL Kagan has estimated ESPN charged $2.79 per subscriber for ESPN3D in 2013, second only to ESPN among national services.
The shuttering of ESPN3D removes a key programming proponent from the space and leaves the technology’s future looking murky.