Sport will be the key driver for 3D TV growth

Thursday, June 16th, 2011

Rafael Nadal looks way more awesome in 3DWith UPC having followed Sky into the 3D TV field, Emmet Ryan looks at how sport rather than movies will prove the biggest driver in developing the home market for this technology.

Moving slowly

The biggest obstacle facing 3D TV from the start has been the lack of people using it. It remains an issue but sport has the potential to fuel growth far more than movies. Looking at the take for Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, the opening weekend in the US only saw two thirds of its gross come from 3D screens. This may sound like a big number but it’s actually worryingly low. Larger theatres in cinemas are equipped for 3D and the bulk of the screenings would have been in these on the opening weekend. This means that the guts of a third of movie-goers actively chose to go to a 2D showing on a smaller screen so as not to pay the premium associated with 3D films. The gimmicky use of the technology by films lie Pirates has a limited appeal, special effects are a great sauce but you need a good steak for people to buy into 3D.

Films which have focussed on adding depth with 3D and improving the overall picture have showed where value can be gained from this technology. Tron Legacy, a film light on plot but heavy on picture quality, showed just how much better the overall viewing experience can be. They remain limited however in their ability to win over audiences in the home market. Event viewing of DVDs or 3D downloads is not a huge driver and 3D films on TV suffer from the viewing habits of casual users, with a tendency to flick around and see what’s on. There’s an impracticality which can’t be overcome. One sector can overcome this handicap and, fortunately enough, it’s also best placed to sell the wow factor of the technology.

Just as expected

Two weeks ago I went to UPC’s showcase of the French Open in 3D. As I previously wrote, sports where the came gets closer to the action have the potential to sell this technology. The semi final from Roland Garros, between Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray, served as a solid indicator of this. The combination of Tennis taking place in a relatively small environment with the proximity of the shot to the action provides that kind of depth sports fans appreciate.

All the clichés about getting closer to the action really are valid as fans want to have a better feeling for what’s happening. It provides more intimacy and a sense of involvement, rather big emotional triggers with a market that advertisers and television manufacturers love. Live sport outperforms all other forms of television when it comes to stickyness, viewers tend to go out of their way to watch the broadcast when it is shown and are less likely to switch channels*. UPC have started their 3D roll out by focusing on event viewing, the types of sport events where people will go out of their way to set aside time to watch something. Expect more of this in the coming months as major events are targeted to sell the technology.

*This, incidentally, is also why ads for products aimed primarily at women are often shown during Boxing broadcasts. While most of the target viewers may be male there’s a greater chance that female viewers will see ad than during more female-targeted programming as there is less of a chance that the channel will be changed.

Good timing

Growth of the 3D TV market may have been slow to date but it is showing signs of picking up. According to UPC the 3D TV market currently accounts for 6 percent of all new sales but that is expected to rise to between 15 and 20 percent by year end.  Focusing on specific major sporting events and ensuring that venue viewing, primarily pubs, is promoted will help spread interest in the technology. The biggest handicap remains Football. While comfortably the most viewed sport it is also one that isn’t terribly improved by the technology. Exploiting the sports that do benefit on occasions when casual viewers tune in will therefore be vital for long-term growth.

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