Screen Digest forecasts 3-D boom

HD DVD vs. Blu-ray battle will also be decided

Next year promises to be the year when 3-D pics go through the roof, the format battle between HD DVD and Blu-ray will be decided and Sony’s PlayStation 3 will hit back against the successful Nintendo Wii and Microsoft Xbox 360, according to a report by U.K.-based media research firm Screen Digest.

The “Global Media Markets: The Battlegrounds of 2008” report predicts that a five-fold increase in digital 3-D screens worldwide to 1,300, up from 258 in 2006, as well as more pics released in the format, will drive continued growth in the popularity of the 3-D filmgoing experience.

The number of 3-D screens is expected to rise to 3,000 in 2008. Some 2,000 are in the U.S., with that number forecast to increase to 6,000 by the end of 2009.

U.S. studios are embracing digital 3-D technology. DreamWorks Animation topper Jeffrey Katzenberg announced that the studio intends to release all its toons in 3-D, beginning with 2009’s “Monsters vs. Aliens.”

Paramount, New Line, Disney, Sony, Warner Bros. and Fox all have major 3-D projects in the works. James Cameron’s “Avatar” is set for release through Fox in 2009.

“Fly Me to the Moon,” National Geographic’s “U2 3D,” New Line’s “Journey 3-D” and Disney’s “Bolt” are among releases in the format set to bow next year.

“There is a very strong lineup of films and heavy studio slate as studios invest heavily in what they think will be the next revolution in the theatrical experience,” said Screen Digest film and cinema analyst Charlotte Jones. Next year will see “3-D movies really enter the mainstream multiplex environment.”

The battle between high-definition formats HD DVD and Blu-ray is also set for a resolution next year, although which side will deliver the knockout blow is still unclear.

“It would only take one major player to shift allegiances to push the tipping point one way or another,” said analyst Richard Cooper.

Sony’s Blu-ray has enjoyed a good year, boosted by sales of the PlayStation 3 hardware and software. With both sides engaged in price-cutting of their hardware delivery systems, 2008 will see the battle shift to the content arena.

“Hardware prices have been coming down all year,” Cooper said. “It is now about what content is available, which will make the roles of the studios more important.”

Other predictions in the report include a bounceback for the PlayStation 3 against Microsoft’s X-Box 360 and Nintendo Wii consoles, thanks to Sony’s pipeline of exclusive content and a launch of multimedia services in 2008.

The outlook is mixed for mobile TV. While next year will see the launch of broadcast mobile services in major markets, including China, France and Germany, the authors of the report expect some key dates will be missed.

“Although services may launch, coverage will be far from nationwide when key sporting events kick off, namely, the Olympics and UEFA Euro 2008 soccer championships,” said senior mobile media analyst David MacQueen. “A key opportunity to measure European consumer desire for mobile TV services is likely to be lost.”

Those services that have already launched in the U.S. and Italy may experience a surge in subscribers on the back of sports programming.

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