Leads the pack to cut down on costs

Sony issued a heads-up Tuesday to exhibs and theatergoers: Next summer, its 3D pics will be BYOG.

The studio announced plans to stop subsidizing 3D glasses next May with “Men in Black III” and “The Amazing Spider-Man,” bucking the trend that Disney started in 2005 when it provided them outright for “Chicken Little.”

Exhibitors, already under siege from shrinking theatrical windows, are expected to push back against Sony’s 3D-glasses maneuver, just as they did in 2009 when 20th Century Fox tried to get outof paying for specs for “Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs.” (Forced to relent, Fox ultimately wound up footing the bill.)

But if Sony holds its ground and other studios follow suit, exhibitors will not only have to cover the costs somehow, they’ll also be forced to sort out sales and distribution logistics. Exhibs may have to follow the standard set overseas, where moviegoers are encouraged to buy their own glasses and reuse them, in some cases paying a lower ticket price upon return visits.

For instance, Dolby controls most of the Japanese 3D market, and in March, the company started offering reusable 3D glasses for $12 per pair. In Europe, RealD sells its reusable glasses at concession stands or the ticket window for about 1 Euro, saving auds the repeated expense.

In any case, the costs will in some way trickle down to theatergoers already wary of 3D surcharges, as evidenced by the steady erosion of 3D market share over this past summer.

The bring-your-own-glasses model poses a logistical headache for U.S. audiences, as varying 3D systems require different eyewear. What’s more, foreign exhibitors don’t pay as much to studios, giving them more flexibility with ticket prices.

Tension over the glasses question has mounted throughout the rise of 3D, as studios have increasingly balked at the cost. At 50ยข to $1 per ticket, eyewear often means millions of dollars in additional distribution costs.

But the news is good news for one facet of the biz: the companies who manufacture custom and high-end 3D glasses.

As of now, RealD controls about 90% of the 3D space in North America and contracts with the majors to provide most of the 3D frames, a dynamic that’s likely to change as auds seek more durable alternatives to the freebies they’re used to getting.

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