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3D content gap is an economic problem

By most accounts there is just not enough 3D content for 3DTV to take off. Or perhaps there are not enough 3DTV displays out there for advertisers and broadcasters to create 3D content.

By most accounts there is just not enough 3D content for 3DTV to take off. Or perhaps there are not enough 3DTV displays out there for advertisers and broadcasters to create 3D content. Either way there is a chicken and egg dilemma which a recent panel at CES set out to address.

Tom Cosgrove, president and CEO of 3net said: “There was considerable hype three years ago that 3D will take over HD. That was never going to happen. By the end of the year 10-14m households in the US will have 3DTVs. Already there are 90 million 3D device displays globally. The reality is that this is a business that is going to stay but the onus is on us as producers to innovate content but we have to narrow the gap in economics between 2D and 3D.”
 Bryan Burns, vice president of strategic business planning, ESPN is also of the opinion that 3D is here to stay: “The situation today is much like 2002-03 and the introduction of HD – it’s an evolutionary process,” he said. “Clearly the highway has been built. A higher percentage of consumer electronics screens will have 3D inside them. When that base of displays enters the marketplace it is up to content producers to drive usage in the home. 
 “However you can’t make the 2D show suffer. You can’t have separate footprints for 2D and 3D broadcasts, so for us, 5D is a way to get two shows out of one that doesn’t cost you as much. [ESPN aired its first live 3D (shot simultaneously in 2D) studio show from the Las Vegas Convention Centre].
 Bob Zeitter, executive VP and CTO, HBO, said: “When we started a 24-hour HD network, most of our programming was in true HD. We were able to go back and take films that were aired on TV and remaster them in HD. You can’t do that affordably in 3D. We are currently running about twelve 3D movies a year – that volume clearly needs to grow – but there is not a cost effective way to go back and convert that content.”
 HBO has been investigating the production of series drama and training producers in the format but it has yet to commit, in part because lead times are at least 18 months.
 “In terms of original programming we have been learning what it takes to shoot in 3D and the key thing is to drive down the incremental cost of producing programming in 3D,” said Zeitter. 
 “The economics of feature film and TV production are vastly different. If a feature costs $150m for a two-hour movie, that’s $75m an hour. Scripted TV varies from $500k an hour to $5-6m an hour. So the cost of going from 2D to 3D is more easily absorbed in a more expensive project. If it takes us 12 days to produce one episode you can’t make it take 15 days because adding 3D seriously impacts the cost.”
 He added: “We don’t believe in charging our 9m subscribers more for 3D, but in offering it as an enhancement. We will use it as a tool to satisfy subscribers demand for quality content. It’s a value proposition.”
 Vince Pace, co-chairman of the Cameron-Pace Group said: “We are presenting business models that target the economics of production for TV and film while keeping quality. We need to maintain quality and bring in the economics. The industry is now talking about 3D as a commodity or as a business, dull perhaps, but a practical reality. We are going to get the cost of 3D production down to the cost of HD. As the tools get more integrated to each other, the industry will naturally progress to a state where we fill this black hole of content in 3D.”
 CPG is developing a Smart Rig technology which Pace described as a “think tank” for a camera. “One of the new technologies you will see from CPG this year is Smart Rig which is a think tank in a camera. Similar to the way we can design lighting settings for a show and apply that lighting design in a consistent manner, Smart Rig is a system that will develop that look for 3D,” he said. 
 “We have shot demos where the DP, director and first assistant have gone out and shot HD in 2D and in 3D but without the added layers of a stereographer and the whole 3D entourage. We are starting to reduce the amount of crew required by making 3D a hardware play. The hardware will be intelligent enough to develop a style for an HBO show or another for ESPN, and to repeat that style during production.” 
 All the speakers highlighted the penetration of mobile personal 3D displays coming to market as a key theme for the next 12 months.