HD isn’t even a teenager, but ESPN and Discovery are birthing 3D networks.
With 3D likely to be a hot topic at The Cable Show, we asked ESPN 3D chief Bryan Burns, ESPN tech wizard Chuck Pagano and Discovery’s former media tech boss John Honeycutt about 3D TV’s prospects and their new nets.
CFAX: Bryan what will viewers see when they tune in to your 3D network next month? John what will they see in 2011 on yours?
Burns: ESPN 3D viewers on June 11 will see FIFA’s world 3D feed, which we are bringing back to the US via fiber. But what we’re really excited about is July 12, when we produce our first telecast on ESPN 3D of Major League Baseball’s Home Run Derby from Anaheim. No one is sure how many will be watching, but we know we’ll have far more ‘available to’ households for ESPN 3D than we did for ESPN HD when it launched seven years ago. It’s very conceivable that 3D’s rollout will happen faster than HD’s did.
Honeycutt: Viewers can expect to find a mix of iconic programming and content from Discovery, Sony and Imax. It’s early for specific titles, but we’re testing what will and won’t work.
CFAX: Bryan, how will 3D influence advertising?
Burns: If you mean influence literally, it will provide a perspective that can showcase a product in a way never before seen, just as the ESPN-produced coverage of The Masters showed the grounds at Augusta National as they’ve never been seen. As to how 3D will impact the business of advertising, ESPN 3D will launch with a limited number of commercial opportunities within our 3D telecasts. We already have advertisers calling for those availabilities and ready to produce commercial content in 3D. That’s been surprising.
CFAX: John, besides sports, what genres work best in 3D?
Honeycutt: In HD, sports and nature programming led the way. In 3D those genres will also play best. 3D is about immersion, feeling like you’re part of the experience; clearly Discovery content is suited for that. I think we can expect 3D gaming to be a strong presence, too.
CFAX: Bryan, what sports benefit most from 3D?
Burns: It’s too early to tell, but I can say there are aspects of various sports that will stand out, so to speak. When we produced a football game at Ohio State in Columbus last fall, we had a camera above USC’s then-coach Pete Carroll on the sideline. I was at The Galen Center at USC, where we had about 6,000 fans in the building. The Trojans ran a sweep to USC’s side of the field and fans in the first few rows were diving for cover to avoid the pulling guard. At that point I thought, maybe we’re on to something with this 3D thing [laughter].
CFAX: Chuck, what are the technical challenges of carrying sports live in 3D? What are the added expenses associated with 3D equipment?
Pagano: The primary challenge is that most of the equipment we need is still in development. We’re not concerned about this as it’s exactly in sync when we launched HD in 2003. As 3D TV actually stands for stereoscopic TV – 2 channels, left eye and right eye – the expense for a lot of equipment and tools gets automatically doubled because of the two-channel necessity.
CFAX: Chuck, you’ve said that technology doesn’t stand still when you were referring to 1080p HD. What’s down the road for 3D technology?
Pagano: I still feel that 1080/60p will be distributed at some point in the not-too-distant future. I also feel that 1080p will be in our 3D strategy. Time will tell, but we are planning to be ready if and when that change dynamic happens.
CFAX: HD seems to be fast approaching ubiquity. When will 3D will get there? Will 3D ever be standard for most shows?
Honeycutt: No. What you have to remember is not everything works in 3D. It’s highly unlikely that you will ever watch the 6 o’clock news in 3D. As I said earlier, the 3D experience will be one that engages you in the content. Just as we’re not seeing romantic comedy movies in 3D, you won’t see every piece of HD content in 3D.
Pagano: We believe 3D will stay tied to special programming for a while. But I take John’s point about news and 3D. One of the big barometers for me with regard to the ubiquity of HD is local news and studio programming. There are many news operations that have not gone HD, and it will be a long, long time before they go 3D. And remember that all the equipment that has been built and bought to transition from SD to HD will work for a long time. Until that equipment reaches the end of its useful life, it will probably stay in service.
CFAX: So, Bryan, a guess as to when 3D will be ubiquitous?
Burns: Chuck and I will be on a beach somewhere sipping adult beverages and looking in the rear view mirror when that day comes. [laughter]
Burns, Pagano and Honeycutt discuss potential format wars, 3D glasses and other issues at cablefax.com