International markets fuel 3D

Consumers eager for glasses-free 3D TV

International markets are fueling the growth of theatrical 3D, while consumers and programmers seem to be awaiting the arrival of glasses-free TV to fully embrace the format at home.

That was the conclusion of research presented by IHS Screen Digest senior analyst Richard Cooper Wednesday morning at the 3D Entertainment Summit.

About 60% of screens worldwide have converted to digital, and that conversion has been driven by 3D, Cooper said. In North America, 3D exhibition is maturing. About 44% of digital screens in North America are 3D-capable, below the world average, but that’s because much of the world is still converting and will install 2D-only screens after its 3D capacity is in place.

“In mature markets, exhbititors are reaching a comfortable level of 3D capacity,” Cooper said.

International exhibs are still expanding 3D capacity. The number of 3D screens outside the U.S. reached 27,000, up 51% year-on-year.

“China is still incredibly dominant (in 3D expansion),” Cooper said. “In the last 12 months they’ve more than doubled the number of 3D screens in the country.”

Cooper added, “Over the last 12 months, we’ve seen a huge increase in the number of countries that can boast more than 200 3D screens.”

Cooper said that while 3D feature production is down from its 2011 peak, films in an expanding number of genres are being produced in 3D, and the mix of 3D films is coming to resemble the mix of the entire market — an indication that the format is maturing.

Adoption of 3D TV remains slightly ahead of HDTV over time, Cooper said, but content remains scarce.

“3D will remain a niche market in all markets in which it touches,” Cooper said. “One of the biggest barriers to 3D adoption is it remains very event-based viewing. Consumers and programmers are waiting for that revolution: autostereo 3D.” An affordable version of that tech is still several years away, he said.

The ensuing panel on the global 3D marketplace took up Cooper’s observations on the dearth of 3D content. One reason for that: Networks won’t pay for 3D. However, the electronics makers are stepping up to pay for 3D content for their VOD promotional channels, said Principal Media CEO David Brenner.

“Samsung is paying up to $4,000 a minute for 3D content,” Brenner said. “LG is paying around a quarter of that.” Both figures are above what 3D nets are paying now.

The panel agreed that international markets are growing demand for 3D, both in production and distribution. “There’s a desire to create a Hollywood-level standard of entertainment quality,” said Sharon Martin, senior VP of business development for 3ality Technica. “I’ve never heard that before, and we’re hearing that in every territory we’re working in now.”

Brenner said the rollout of 3D may seem “ungodly slow” to those in the 3D business, but from the viewpoint of independent producers, it’s a new opportunity. “Only in the last few years, it really started to snowball,” he said. “We expect that to continue.”