Tuesday
Jan052010

Obstacles In Sight As ESPN Adds 3D To Family Of Networks

January 5, 2010: ESPN, which is the self-proclaimed worldwide leader in sports via a network of stations that includes ESPN, ESPN2, ESPN News, ESPNU and ESPN Classic, said it would expand its broadcast capabilities with the launch of ESPN 3D.

ESPN, which is owned by the Disney Company, said it would unveil what it is calling "the industry’s first 3D television network" on June 11 with a 2010 FIFA Wold Cup match between South Africa vs. Mexico. ESPN 3D will showcase a minimum of 85 live sporting events during its first year, including up to 25 2010 FIFA World Cup matches, the Summer X Games, college basketball and college football, which would include the BCS National Championship game in Glendale, Ariz., January 10, 2011. Additional events will be announced by ESPN.

ESPN shot the 2009 Summer X Games in HD 3D for limited release in theaters. ESPN has been testing 3D TV for about two years. Last September, ESPN produced the USC vs. OSU college football game in 3D, which was shown on the USC campus and in theaters in Ohio, Texas and Connecticut. ESPN also has produced college football and basketball games in 3D for test purposes, and shot its 2009 Summer X-Games in 3D for theatrical release this past August.

ESPN's 3D HD broadcast will be produced separately from its conventional HD coverage and will have its own trucks, crews and commentators. ESPN also said it would not repeat programming, meaning that  ESPN 3D will be dark between events.

A myriad of logistics must now fall into place for ESPN 3D to ramp up. Industry analysts said that viewers would need a 3D-capable TV or a new set-top box to watch the programming. Also, a cable provider must have the capacity to carry 3D programming, much in the way that cable providers must now have HDTV capacity to show HDTV programming. In addition, marketers must film commercials in 3D in order to smoothly mesh with ESPN's 3D sports events. The initial likely partners would be film companies, as a growing number of major movies are now shot in 3D, such as Avatar and the upcoming Toy Story 3, which is from Disney/Pixar. And, of course, viewers must be willing to watch the programming with the necessary 3D glasses.

Movies such as 'Avatar' that are filmed in 3D could potentially run ads on the new ESPN 3D station.Other sports events also have been tested with HD 3D programming. The NFL broadcast the San Diego Chargers-Oakland Raiders game in December 20008 in HD 3D, which was seen by select audiences in New York, Boston and Los Angeles. Fox and Sony in January 2009 broadcast the FedEx BCS National Championship college football game between Florida and Oaklahoma at Dolphin Stadium to fans in some 80 3D-equipped theaters. And the NBA and Turner Sports aired an HD 3D test broadcast to select theaters during the skills event on All-Star Saturday Night in Phoenix last February. An NBA game in March 2008 between the Dallas Mavericks and San Antonio Spurs was shown in 3D at Dallas theaters under the auspices of Mavericks' owner Mark Cuban.

In December, the Dallas Cowboys tested a 3D concept in their new Cowboys Stadium by showing action in 3D on its state-of-the-art $40 million HD screen. It received mixed reviews in a limited run - including the fact that fans did not want to wear the 3D glasses - and has not yet been tried again.

”ESPN’s commitment to 3D is a win for fans and our business partners,” George Bodenheimer, co-chairman, Disney Media Networks, and president, ESPN and ABC Sports, said in a statement. “ESPN 3D marries great content with new technology to enhance the fan’s viewing experience and puts ESPN at the forefront of the next big advance for TV viewing.”
 
According to Sean Bratches, evp-sales and marketing for ESPN, “This will be a meaningful step to drive adoption of 3D television sets and afford opportunities for our affiliates to create value through new product offerings, and our advertisers, who want fresh sponsorship opportunities."

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