Channel plans steady roll out of new service

Discovery Communications’ 3D channel, due to bow in the U.S. early next year, will roll out more slowly around the globe, according to prexy-CEO David Zaslav.

At a breakfast in London on Tuesday to mark Discovery’s 25th anni, Zaslav said that rather than setting up local versions of the 3D web, he would gauge what platforms in different markets required.

For instance, in the U.K., he said he would wait to see what pay TV platform BSkyB could accommodate. “Maybe there’s a case for offering our 3D content via video-on-demand or providing it as part of Sky’s 3D channel, rather than as a standalone channel,” he said.

The high costs involved in 3D and the dearth of content were, Zaslav indicated, the main reasons why Discovery had pacted with Sony and Imax on the 3D channel.

The partnership taps Sony’s library and 3D technology experience and Imax’s content and proprietary 3D technology.

“It is cheaper to make a new show in 3D than it is to convert an existing one, which frame-by-frame costs 100 times as much as a standard definition show,” Zaslav explained.

He said about a third of the content on the new web would be provided by Discovery, but not all its programming would work in the format.

“‘Deadliest Catch’ is maybe not a great 3D show because there is too much motion. Besides we’d send them out with cameras and they’d come back with none,” quipped Mark Hollinger, prexy and CEO of Discovery Networks Intl.

“How you produce 3D content economically is something we are asking ourselves,” he added.

Zaslav said there was a chance that Discovery 3D, hailed as the world’s first 24-7 3D channel, could bow before the end of the year, but a 2011 start-date was more likely.

The earlier the launch, the better for Sony, which hopes that 3D TVs will be big sellers in the U.S. in the run-up to Christmas. Both toppers said that in terms of distribution, Discovery’s highest levels of future growth were likely to come from emerging markets in Eastern and Central Europe such as Russia, Belarus, Ukraine and Turkey.

Discovery has continued to increase its investment in content despite the economic crisis, spending around $800 million a year.

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