Discovery’s Zaslav talks 3D at NATPE

Recent box office boom of 3D a 'significant indicator'

LAS VEGAS — The box office success of “Avatar” and other 3D pics seems to be setting the table for a boom in 3D TV, Discovery Communications chief David Zaslav said Monday as part of his keynote sesh that opened the NATPE confab.

Discovery, Sony and Imax earlier this month unveiled a partnership to launch a 24-hour 3D cable channel in the U.S. next year. Zaslav admitted that the company’s push into 3D is a gamble, but he pointed to the booming 3D B.O. as a “significant indicator” that there’s an appetite for home 3D devices.

Zaslav likened the move into 3D to the investment Discovery made several years ago in launching HD TV channels, which have paid off handsomely for the company.

With new technologies, “You have to place your bets before all the evidence is in,” Zaslav said during the Q&A moderated by Daily Variety’s Brian Lowry. Discovery’s risk is mitigated somewhat by having two partners, Sony and Imax.

Zaslav said he was sold on 3D TV after attending the Consumer Electronics Show this month in Vegas, where it was clear that TV set manufacturers “are getting behind this (technology) in a very big way.” The creative community is likely to tubthump for 3D TV so that movies such as “Avatar” can be viewed in their original formats on DVD.

Zaslav added that he was impressed by the 3D TV demonstrations he saw, such as a baseball game in the format. “It almost looks like the pitch is going to hit you,” Zaslav marveled.

The three partners plan to produce enough 3D programming to fill a 24/7 channel. Discovery is also looking at “upconverting” some of the shows in its vast library to 3D, just as the majors are doing with classic pic titles.

Zaslav spent a good deal of his time in the hourlong sesh fielding questions about the upcoming Oprah Winfrey Network, set to launch next year. Zaslav showed off a sizzle reel for OWN — which intends to emphasize lifestyle, health and wellness and self-improvement issues. The promo included the tagline “It’s your life … own it.”

But otherwise he was mostly mum on specifics about the programming and Winfrey’s level of on-air time. “You will feel her presence in a very significant way,” he said.

In his keynote, Zaslav highlighted four key trends that he sees driving Discovery’s growth: high-quality programming that fits the brands of its 13 domestic nets; the continued growth of HD channels; the spread of social media as a pop culture force; and international markets.

Of the four, the social-media boom is the most vexing for the traditional TV biz, but it has great potential to drive biz, Zaslav said.

“It’s changing the way people behave,” he said. Zaslav cited examples of low-profile shows on various Discovery nets that suddenly saw ratings spikes after key clips made the viral rounds on blogs, Facebook, etc.

“In this day, viewers are the experts. (Net execs) have to be aggressive in adapting all these new technologies to our advantage,” he said.

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