Three-D camera rig company 3ality Technica of Burbank and Asian consumer electronics companies that make 3-D TV sets have a common interest: more 3-D television shows.
More productions would mean additional work for 3ality and possibly more consumer interest in buying 3-D sets. So the two sides have joined forces in an unusual way: providing subsidies to get more 3-D broadcasts produced.
“What we’re looking for is the growth of 3-D TV – faster than it’s growing now – which isn’t very fast,” said Steve Schklair, chief executive of 3ality. “When your favorite shows are broadcast in (3-D) then you have a compelling reason to watch.”
The companies have created a fund that is intended to cover the marginal costs of shooting a TV show in 3-D in addition to 2-D for a season. Depending on the length of episodes, the extravagance of a production and special effects involved, that margin could be less than 5 percent to much more than that. In real dollars, that means the subsidies could be as much as $2 million for a 13-episode season, Schklair said.
The fund, which has been dubbed the 3-D Delta Fund, so far has received commitments of more than $5 million from the electronics companies, a sum Schklair is hoping to double by adding consumer electronics partners. He wouldn’t name contributors, but companies that would appear to have an interest in such a fund include 3-D set makers Samsung Group and LG Corp., both of Seoul, South Korea, and Tokyo’s Sony Corp. Sony not only makes the sets but is part owner of 3-D network 3Net of Culver City.
The money would be given without strings attached in an effort to jump start 3-D television and spur productions in the medium, which is only available on cable and satellite television but not broadcast networks.
Indeed, the approach is not entirely unique. Legend3D of San Diego, which converts 2-D television episodes into 3-D, has announced it raised $19 million from private investors in December, in part to help cover the costs of conversions.
Phil Lelyveld, program manager for the Consumer 3-D Experience Program at USC’s Entertainment Technology Center, said 3ality’s fund makes sense from a couple of perspectives.
“It’s a good, measured way for all the parties involved,” Lelyveld said. “It helps 3ality get new clients and it helps consumer electronics companies. It’s more content to stimulate the market.”
A few years ago, many in the entertainment industry thought 3-D would be the next big thing in television, but the technology has failed to catch on.
A poll of 1,700 consumers that didn’t own 3-D TV sets in December by New York consultancy ABI Research found that more than 1,000 either had no interest in purchasing a 3-D TV or were undecided. Among the reasons cited were an aversion to wearing 3-D glasses at home, a lack of content and the cost of buying a TV set.
The industry has made some headway on the price of televisions. When they were first released three years ago, the sets (which can also receive 2-D broadcasts) sold for hundreds of dollars more than comparably sized traditional models. Now, the sets are coming down in price and the technology is becoming standard in higher-end sets.
However, production costs continue to stymie the availability of content. Just this month, director James Cameron, who runs rival 3-D tech company Cameron Pace Group in Burbank, gave an impassioned speech at a broadcasters convention about the need to increase adoption of the medium, claiming that episodic 3-D TV production can conform to 2-D budgets and timetables. Cameron Pace rigs affix 3-D cameras alongside those shooting in 2-D, which lets a film crew shoot in both mediums simultaneously.
And last year, 3ality unveiled software that allows multiple cameras to be aligned through an automated process, allowing for a smaller crew. All original 3-D productions require an additional camera to capture the added dimension.
“Everything we do is about driving down the costs,” Schklair said, “It’s achievable through more and more automation.”
But he decided that he could do more after noticing the huge sums spent by consumer electronics companies to sponsor special events shot in 3-D, such as the World Cup or Olympics. Schklair began pitching the companies this year on the fund as a way to make 3-D content available year-round.
“It’s not a big leap to say that the only thing that’s going to move TVs is content that people want to watch,” he said. “It has to be more than the Olympics.”
He has since been talking to studio executives and producers to pitch them the idea of shooting in 3-D in meetings arranged by Century City talent agency International Creative Management, which 3ality hired earlier this year.
At the same time, a committee composed of 3ality and representatives from the electronics companies are reviewing shows that could be a good fit for 3-D, such as those with a wide and loyal audience and that don’t involve too many special effects.
3ality also recently provided rigs for a test shoot of an hourlong 3-D episode of soap opera “Days of Our Lives.” The test was done in conjunction with Sony’s TV studio, Sony Pictures, which produces the show.
Although the soap opera is carried on the NBC network, which has not announced any plans for broadcasting in 3-D, the idea was to showcase how even a soundstage show can benefit from the format.
“New content every week for 13 episodes is much more interesting than a week of a special event,” Schklair said.
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