Better sets, prices aid consumer adoption

Television is still awaiting its 3D moment.

With comparatively few 3D sets in the living rooms of consumers, and a relative paucity of programming, adoption of the new format hasn’t reached critical mass.

But with a better price point for 3D sets, improved technology and help from the London Olympics, which kick off July 27, that may begin to change.

The possible boost from the Olympics is not without irony. In the U.K., BSkyB is the only player making a significant investment in the format, but it is the BBC that has exclusive live rights to the Olympics in the U.K.

The Beeb plans to show opening and closing ceremonies, as well as the men’s 100-meter dash in 3D, all on the BBC’s HD channel. Additionally, BBC HD viewers will get a nightly package of 3D highlights from the Games. BSkyB’s Olympics coverage is likely to be restricted to news reports and highlights.

Nevertheless, John Cassy, director of BSkyB’s Sky 3D network, calls the event a key moment for the 3D sector. “If it is done properly, the Games have the potential to be a wonderful showcase for 3D TV,” he says. “Imagine diving, the long jump or the 100-meter dash in 3D.”

Since bowing in October 2010, Sky 3D, has made steady progress. The paybox reports that Sky 3D is now available in approximately 200,000 U.K. homes, compared with 70,000 a year ago. (The service is offered to subscribers only as an inducement to buy BSkyB’s most expensive, Sky World HD package; it cannot be purchased as a separate channel.)

This steady march is likely to begin to speed up as more sets are bought.

“In the past, the 3D TV viewing experience was somewhat headache-inducing,” says Tom Morrod, head of TV Technology at IHS Screen Digest. “After spending half an hour in front of the TV, a lot of people put the glasses away in a cupboard and never got them out again.”

Now, 3D TVs offering an improved viewing experience that can be bought for less than $1,000 in the U.K. A year ago, similar sets were selling for almost three times this amount.

According to Richard Gregory, account director at market researchers GfK Retail and Technology, 700,000 3D sets were sold in the U.K. last year.

“By volume, that’s 7.5% of all the TVs bought by U.K consumers in 2012. In December the figure was 11.3%,” Gregory says, adding that Brits are traditionally early adopters of new technology.

Still, no one knows how much time owners of 3D sets spend watching in 3D.

On the plus side for technology companies, pay-TV operators and content providers, it won’t be long before all sets with screen sizes of 32 inches and above come with 3D built in as standard. But there are problems holding back 3D TV’s growth in the U.K. and elsewhere: Simply put, there remains a lack of content, particularly with the BBC lacking the resources to provide anything other than limited 3D TV broadcasts for the foreseeable future.

Driven by sports and movies, Sky boosted its 3D fare with docu “Flying Monsters 3D” and, more recently, “The Bachelor King 3D,” both featuring David Attenborough. Over at the BBC, last summer’s men’s and women’s Wimbledon tennis finals were offered in 3D, as was December’s climax to the recent run of BBC1’s “Strictly Come Dancing” (“Dancing With the Stars” in the U.S.).

The 3D “Strictly” transmission was watched by an average audience of 53,000 viewers, compared with the 12.2 million who tuned in for the regular standard definition. Still, this was a big improvement on the numbers for the Wimbledon finals in 3D — around 18,000.

Those meager numbers are among the reasons Roger Mosey, the BBC’s director of Olympics coverage, urges caution when assessing ratings expections for Olympic coverage in 3D.

“3D has spread more slowly than we perhaps expected in 2009, and there have been interesting developments abroad, with France’s Canal Plus announcing that it’s stopping its 3D channel because it just hadn’t met its targets.”

Ultimately, technology experts like Morrod see consumer adoption of 3D TV as a slow burn, driven by sports and movies. Soccer continues to have great potential to drive the format, particularly as technology improves. BSkyB and ESPN, an aggressive 3D player in the U.S., both broadcast live Premier League games in Blighty.

It took HD from 1998 to 2006 to break through in the U.K. A similar haul looks likely for 3D TV.

Mosey calls the Beeb’s 3D Olympics coverage a trial that will play up the innovation surrounding the London Games, and help the biz assess the most effective way to deliver 3D programming.

“The industry will only know what customers want if we have actual data on their use of 3D, and there’s no bigger stage on which to try this out than the Olympics,” he says.

Those meager numbers are among the reasons Roger Mosey, the BBC’s director of Olympics coverage, urges caution when assessing ratings expections for Olympic coverage in 3D.

“3D has spread more slowly than we perhaps expected in 2009, and there have been interesting developments abroad, with France’s Canal Plus announcing that it’s stopping its 3D channel because it just hadn’t met its targets.”

Mosey calls the Beeb’s 3D Olympics coverage a “trial” that will play up the innovation surrounding the London Games, and help the biz assess the most effect way to deliver 3D programming.

“The industry will only know what customers want if we have actual data on their use of 3D, and there’s no bigger stage on which to try this out than the Olympics,” he says.

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