‘Tokyo Control’ paves way for 3D TV series

Tech issues remain, but content draws interest

Can 3D TV content move beyond the gee-whiz factor and engage auds with ongoing stories as well as snazzy effects? Japanese network Fuji TV, in partnership with Sony and Sony PCL, aims to prove it can by producing Japan’s first 3D drama series, “Tokyo Control.”

Set in an air traffic control center, the 10-episode 3D series debuted on the Sky PerfecTV! HD channel Jan. 19, together with a 2D version broadcast one hour sooner.

The episodes, which star Ayako Kawahara and Saburo Tokito, focus on the suspense, tension and human relationships of air traffic control work, with the action mostly confined to the control center itself.

“Equipment for filming in 3D is currently in the development stage — the cameras are big, and four times more lighting is required than for 2D,” show producer Daisuke Sekiguchi says. “In other words, there are still various barriers to filming (in 3D). Working with these limitations, we’ve created a dynamic drama using only one set. … We’ve chosen material with which we can develop interesting stories while overcoming the downsides of 3D filming.”

For partner Sony and other big Japanese electronics makers, 3D’s biggest downside so far is that, despite the hype accompanying the roll-out of 3D sets and other gear last year, sales have lagged behind expectations, leaving their massive 3D investments still in the loss column. From April to September, 131,000 3D sets moved off store shelves in Japan, amounting to a tiny 1.3 % of flatscreen TV sales, according to figures released by the Japan Electronics and Information Technology Industries Assn.

Sales have since perked up — in December, 3D sets accounted for 23% of sales in the 40-inches-and-over category — but a true takeoff for 3D requires content that gets people talking — and spending. Thus, a lot is riding on the success of pioneering series like “Tokyo Control,” and Sony and Fuji have taken pains with its production, even calling in the producers of “Avatar” for tech advice.

Fortunately, the reaction has been “tremendous,” says Sekiguchi.

“We’ve gotten the most email, nearly all positive, (for “Tokyo Control”) of all of our satellite broadcasts. What we’re hearing most is that, more than the 3D, viewers find the stories interesting. They see the show as something fresh among Japanese TV dramas since we’ve made it pay more attention to the content than the casting.”

Encouraged by this response, Fuji is bringing “Tokyo Control” to Mip in both its 2D and 3D formats, as well as planning to sell it in other markets abroad. The network is also planning other 3D shows, though it has yet to air any, including “Tokyo Control,” on its main terrestrial channel.

“There still remain health issues (such as headaches and other problems),” says Akihiro Arai, head of Fuji’s Worldwide Production and Sales division. “However, for our pay television channels and events, we would like to experiment with 3D. … Fuji plans to move ahead in this field aggressively.”

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