Sony steps up on 3D

TV, film and PlayStation projects touted

Sony rolled out its biggest corporate guns Wednesday on the old Columbia lot to tubthump its top-to-bottom commitment to stereoscopic 3D — even as questions are beginning to surface about whether there is enough programming for the launch of two new 3D networks.

Among the projects touted by Sony Corp. Chairman-CEO-President Sir Howard Stringer, Sony Pictures Entertainment chairman & CEO Michael Lynton and similarly high-powered execs from the conglom’s home electronics and computer entertainment divisions were “Men in Black III” (with a clip of Will Smith promising “to make 3D look good”), 3D upgrades for PlayStation, the new Bravia line of 3D flatscreens and two TV networks — ESPN 3D and the Discovery-Sony-Imax all-3D net.

ESPN 3D, which uses Sony equipment, kicks off early Friday morning Pacific Time with the Mexico vs. South Africa World Cup match, live from Johannesburg, and will have plenty of matches to show through the run of the tournament.

Brian Burns, ESPN’s VP, strategic business planning and development, told Daily Variety that the net will follow with the Baseball All-Star Game’s Home Run Derby on July 12, the X-Games from Staples Center, college football, basketball, the NBA “and who knows what else. We’ll figure that out as we go along.”

But the net won’t be 24/7 anytime soon.

“At the present time we’re going to be an event-driven network,” said Burns. “We’ve talked to our distribution partners and they said to us that bandwidth is so precious for them from their facilities to your home, that they’re only going to put us up when we have an event on.”

The Discovery-Sony-Imax channel doesn’t have those bandwidth issues, according to its new topper, Tom Cosgrove. However, the channel plans to air programming 24 hours a day. It’s set to launch in early 2011.

Sony plans a full-court-press promotional effort to sell 3D electronics to consumers, with 6,000 retail displays in the U.S. alone and 5,500 educational 3D classes at retailers in the next two months.

Playstation owners can download a firmware upgrade and receive vouchers for free 3D game demos that will come with some Bravia flatscreens.

Company expects faster adoption of 3D than HD because consumers have seen 3D in movie theaters and already have an idea what it looks like, while HD promised an improved picture to consumers who were mostly satisfied with their existing TVs.

Discovery’s Cosgove told Daily Variety, “We are producing content.” The 3D cabler also has access to Imax’s library of 3D documentaries and the Discovery and Sony libraries as well. The net has been meeting with 3D experts and possble program suppliers.

The Sony Corporate presentation hinted that Columbia’s 13 3D titles from the 1950s may be fodder for the net. (Clips were shown from “The Mad Magician” with Vincent Price, Rita Hayworth starrer “Miss Sadie Thompson” and the Three Stooges short “Spooks.”)

However, taking a 58-year-old movie and prepping it for modern exhibition requires more than a telecine transfer. When John Wayne starrer “Hondo” was restored several years ago, the left and right eye negatives had shrunk and discolored unevenly. It took a painstaking digital restoration to make the images match.

Aside from the 3D programming itself, commercials remain an open question for 3D nets. 2D commercials look drab on a 3D network, and constant repetition of the same two or three commercials and 3D movie trailers quickly becomes irritating.

An ESPN spokesperson said the company is in active discussions about including 3D commercials and hopes to have an announcement when the net launches Friday morning. A 3D Sportscenter commercial is in the works.

Cosgrove said of his net, “I think as the industry moves, (advertisers) will move with it. They’ll be on board.”

But as yet, he couldn’t name any advertisers who’d committed to 3D spots.

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