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Sky looks at 3DTV skills

Sky is pledging to fund the additional cost of 3DTV over HD but is asking the production community to meet it half way and invest in skills, reports Adrian Pennington.

Sky is pledging to fund the additional cost of 3DTV over HD but is asking the production community to meet it half way and invest in skills, reports Adrian Pennington.

Part of its commitment is an investment with the UK Film Council and Skillset to create a set of dedicated 3D training courses.

“We will commission and licence 3D content but wherever possible it needs to be an HD and a 3D product,” said Brian Lenz BSkyB’s director of product design and TV product development. “Ideally we are funding the increment to create a 3D format of an HD project. That will mean an editorial decision about whether to make two different cuts but our focus in the early days is about making everything work in both HD and 3D to that small, growing audience.”

In order to build a market for 3DTV Sky needs a range of content outside of sports and movies. It used an event at Bafta for over 200 indie producers, distributors and channel partners to evangelise 3D and call for programming ideas.

“It’s about going back to basics and getting the most out of the resources available to you,” Lenz added. “We want you to plan, to storyboard and think before you shoot so that what you are not doing is doubling up the shooting days, adding in extra cameras for the sake of it because every one of those elements adds cost.

“There is an increment to be funded but we need that increment to go down and we hope you (the producers) take some responsibility because we will be asking you to find the most economical way to deliver great 3D content.”

First and foremost he told the audience “you need to invest yourselves in developing your organisation’s capability in 3D. We can’t just be the source of funding for your R&D. 3D is not a licence to print money. We will scour budgets and proposals to ensure that you are driving that 3D increment down as far logically possible.”

In exchange Sky, UKFC and Skillset are to launch a set of dedicated 3D training courses ranging in scope from novices to stereographers. These courses have been designed and run by Phil Streather, a stereo 3D producer and the CEO of Principal Large Format.

“[These training sessions] will ensure that the UK can catch up and pass the rest of the world in terms of having the best and greatest number of qualified 3D production personnel,” said Lenz.

Sky’s residential channel launch later this year will be a mix of sports, entertainment and movies plus a ‘wow’ reel – featuring 3D highlights – which will rotate between fresh event 3DTV content. Three to four appointment-to-view events are planned per week from launch, which will scale over time.

“Initially that is our target but that number will grow over time,” he said. “We will manage our investment to the rate of market growth.”

A number of 3D entertainment and arts programmes have already been commissioned although details were not announced.

“For drama we want standalone, repeatable events like ‘Hogfather’ (adapted from the Terry Pratchett books) not series,” said Stuart Murphy, director of programmes, Sky1 HD, Sky1, 2, 3. “We wouldn’t say no to specialist factual or natural history. It needs to be something we can build a promotion around.”

Sophie Turner Laing, Sky’s managing director, entertainment and news added, “3D is as much a commercial as it is creative opportunity. If you have an outstanding idea for content working in HD and 3D – we will back it.”

Outside of Sky, Lenz pointed to distribution opportunities for content owners including new US channels from ESPN and Discovery as well forthcoming 3D channel launches from Canal+ in France, MediaPro in Spain, Korea and SkyPerfect in Japan.

“The right projects and events could also go to cinemas,” he said. “The home video market packaged into Blu-ray DVDs is also important for premium content.”

Gerry O’Sullivan, director of strategic product development, said Sky had tested a variety of genre outside of sports.

“The challenge is to find me something that doesn’t work [in 3D], or give an audience a better experience in 3D,” he said.

“The UK has a fantastic opportunity to set itself at the head of the creative and entertainment industry by seizing the opportunity to show the world how great 3D can be,” declared Lenz.

“Do not make anything of low quality. Do not make 3D for the sake of 3D. We can’t afford for production increments to remain as high as they are now. And we can’t afford to rely on expensive equipment from the US. “What we do in the next 12 – 24 months will dictate whether or not 3D is a gimmick or whether it is the next major technology transformation like black and white to colour.”