WealthTV president Charles Herring is stockpiling 3D content -- anticipating a quick takeoff for the format -- but he's not quite sure what he's going to do with it yet.
To date, the San Diego-based network has commitments to produce about 50 hours of 3D programming, ranging from travelogues, showcases of exotic cars and nature documentaries, including a one-hour special on Hearst Castle, the legendary William Randolph Hearst estate in central California.
"We're excited about anything that will let you turn on the TV and you feel like you're there," Herring said. "When I first saw HD, I felt like I could actually smell the ocean. I think viewers will get 3D when they see it."
But WealthTV, which describes itself as the "premier luxury lifestyle and entertainment network," hasn't determined whether it will offer 3D content as video-on-demand, on a linear 24/7 channel, or in a programming block on the HD service, Herring said.
The existing 2D network is available to about 10 million homes, through distribution deals with AT&T, Verizon, Charter Communications, and small and midsize cable and telco operators.
So far WealthTV, incorporated as Herring Broadcasting, has been stymied by most of the biggest distributors.
The network gained notoriety in 2008, when it filed a complaint with the Federal Communications Commission alleging four big MSOs-Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Cox Communications and Bright House Networks-had discriminated against WealthTV, by refusing to carry the channel in favor of In Demand's now-defunct Mojo HD. An FCC administrative law judge ruled against WealthTV in the matter last year.
Will 3D elicit interest from distributors that have given WealthTV the cold shoulder? "I think 3D in general is important to WealthTV-and it should be important to operators, too," Herring said.
Many TV makers, programmers and analysts believe 3D television will take off more quickly than HD. About 4.2 million 3DTV sets will ship worldwide in 2010, with the number expected to triple to 12.9 million units next year, according to a recent forecast by research firm iSuppli.
In any case, Herring and his team are gearing up for 3D. In May, WealthTV completed a test in which it transmitted one-minute 3D vignettes, sent on its HD feed during daytime hours via Intelsat's Galaxy 13 satellite. The programmer ensured the 3D programming displayed correctly on 3D-compatible sets and that DVRs were able to replay the content.
Other technical work WealthTV has undertaken included upgrading its Motorola transmission equipment and increasing the capacity of its Omneon playout servers fourfold.
On June 15, WealthTV crews will begin shooting 3D footage of Hearst Castle, which Herring said will be the first time the estate has been shot in the format. "The Roman 2nd Century AD marble statues in 3D will look amazing," Herring said.
WealthTV also has signed Randall Dark Productions to produce a 3D travelogue of the Smoky Mountains and other attractions in Tennessee, and the network recently shot exotic cars in 3D on location in Irvine, Calif., including the original Mercedes-Benz 300 SL Gullwing and the new 2011 SLS AMG Gullwing.