ESPN, Discovery get into 3D game

Cablers announce plans to launch TV networks

With home 3D standards finally set, the race is on to get the first 3D network into homes.

ESPN announced Tuesday it will launch a 3D channel, ESPN 3D, on June 11, with the soccer World Cup match between South Africa and Mexico.

Meanwhile Discovery Networks, Sony and Imax have formed a joint venture to develop what they hope will be the first 24/7 3D television network. Trio aims to launch the net in 2011.

And tech provider Next3D announced plans to launch a streaming 3D service in the first half of this year.

ESPN 3D promises to present a minimum of 85 events in its first year, including up to 25 World Cup soccer matches, Summer X Games, college basketball, and college football, including next year’s BCS Championship Game.

Bryan Burns, VP Strategic Business Planning, ESPN told Daily Variety FIFA, the world soccer governing body, had spoken to the net about a 3D feed.

“They gave us time to go to the marketplace and talk to distributors, advertisers and sponsors.”

ESPN’s parent company, Disney, has been foursquare behind 3D for years and the sports net began its 3D tests more than two years ago. They used cameras and rigs from Pace Technologies to present the Ohio State — USC football game in 3D to test venues last fall.

“The positive numbers were off the chart and the wow factor was intense,” says Burns.

The three-way Discovery-Sony-Imax venture, which has not yet given its network a name, aims to be basic cable and satellite, not a premium channel. No carriage agreements for the channel are yet in place.

Partnership taps Discovery’s experience as a cabler and producer; Sony’s library and 3D technology experience; and Imax content and proprietary 3D technology. Programming is yet to be determined but is expected to include movies from Sony’s and Imax’s libraries, special events and existing programming.

In a conference call, Sony Corp. chairman Sir Howard Stringer predicted 3D “will ignite a new upgrade cycle in consumer devices” including cameras, projectors, televisions and Blu-ray players.

Discovery founder and chairman John Hendricks said he expects some 5 million early-adopters homes to get 3D systems within 3 years. “Thereafter, there’s probably another 20 million affluent homes that relish the home theater experience” and he expects them to go to 3D “quickly.” He also predicted the mass rollout of 3D television “within five-10 years.”

Stringer and Hendricks repeatedly compared 3D to high-definition TV, and stressed they expect consumer adoption to follow a similar pattern.

Kerner Technologies, a technology company spun off from Lucasfilm, had announced plans to launch a 3D TV network but has put those plans on hold following a change of ownership.

On the Internet side, Atlanta-based Next3D announced it will launch a dedicated broadband service to send 3D content, including movies, events and games, to personal computers. Some content will be free, some available for online rental.

3D is notorious for needing a lot of bandwidth but Next3D plans to adjust the stream according to the user’s connection speed and screen resolution. In fact, the difficulty in streaming and downloading S3D movies is expected to be a boon to Blu-ray.

Interest in 3D TV continues to surge, and the new TVs and components can’t arrive soon enough as far as filmmakers are concerned. Comcast is making “Final Destination” available to its cable subscribers in anaglyph form (the red/green glasses system infamous from the 1970s). Recent anaglyph DVD releases and an anaglyph presentation on the Dallas Cowboys giant stadium videoscreen have been poorly received by viewers.

(Lisa Engelbrektson contributed to this report.)