Filling a ‘Black Hole of Content’


Las Vegas — The Consumer Electronics Show floor was
rife with the latest 3DTVs from manufacturers including
LG, Sony and Panasonic.

But there remains a dearth of 3D content on television
two years after the first sets hit
the market. That should start
to change as TV networks cut
production costs and consumers
buy more sets in 2012, industry
executives said on a
panel here at CES last week.

“We’re now in a phase where
we’re concentrating more on
the economics,” Vince Pace,
chairman of 3D production
firm Cameron Pace Group,
said. “We’re going to get the
cost of 3D production down to
the cost of 2D production. …
It’s natural that we will progress
to a state where the economics
will scale up to fill this
black hole of content that exists.”

ESPN last Monday (Jan. 9)
delivered its 188th live 3D telecast,
with ESPN 3D’s coverage
of the Bowl Championship Series
college football title game
between LSU and Alabama.
ESPN 3D launched in June
2010 with the FIFA World Cup soccer tournament.

“While we at ESPN may have hit the [3DTV] on-ramp
a year early, clearly the on-ramp is being built,” Bryan
Burns, ESPN vice president of strategic business planning
and development, said on the “Spotlight on 3D Content”
panel at the show, the day after the BCS title game.

“This is an evolutionary process,” Burns said. “We are
now seeing the seeds we have planted start to sprout.”

ESPN is producing more 3D content with what Burns
called a “5D” approach: It uses 3D cameras to shoot an
event but strips out the left-eye image to deliver the 2D version.
“For us, 5D is a way to get two shows out of one, which
doesn’t cost you as much as doing two separate shoots,”
Burns said.

ESPN screened the LSU-Alabama game in 3D at the Las
Vegas Hotel & Casino (formerly the Hilton). The network
had 11 3D cameras in New Orleans to shoot the game, including
the SkyCam that carried both 3D and 2D cameras;
3D cameras on each goalpost; and three miniaturized,
24-pound handheld cameras (rigs designed and developed
by Cameron Pace Group with Sony PMD10 cameras).

It’s still early days for 3DTV, Tom Cosgrove, president
and CEO of 3net, a joint venture of Discovery Communications,
Sony and IMAX, said. “But people are realizing
that this is a business that is not going away,” he added.

DirecTV launched 3net in February 2011, but the network
hasn’t signed up any other distributors. Cosgrove expects
between 10 million and 14 million 3DTV sets in the
U.S. by the end of 2012. “It’s just a matter of that platform
getting out there, and it’s on us to get that compelling content
out there.”

A challenge for 3D compared with HD is that it’s very
expensive to convert 2D content into 3D, whereas standard-
definition content can more cost-effectively be
upconverted to HD, HBO chief technology officer Bob
Zitter said.

“We’re looking to drive down the incremental cost of
producing content in 3D,” Zitter said. “That’s going to be
essential to creating more 3D content.”

Zitter noted that a one-hour episode of a TV series can
cost anywhere from $500,000 to $6 million per hour, so
the costs of 3D are “more easily absorbed in a more expensive

Additional 3DTV events — such as NBC’s plans to offer
the 2012 London Olympic Games in 3D to U.S. distributors
— will help grow awareness, the panelists said. “That
raises the water in the bathtub for everybody,” Burns said.

The challenge moving forward for 3DTV networks is getting
the message out to consumers, to let them know how
to access the content. “As an industry we’re still figuring
that out and working through it,” Cosgrove said.

The driver for 3D, as with the adoption of HD, will be
compelling content rather than the format per se, according
to Cosgrove: “We need to get to the point where you’re
not watching it just because it’s 3D — you’re watching it
because it’s a fantastic show … It’s the content that is going
to drive people to adopt [3DTVs].”