Consumers may not have embraced 3-D television yet, but that isn’t stopping Culver City’s 3Net from upping its bet on the nascent technology.
The 3-D TV channel announced last month the launch of its in-house production and distribution studio. The move will allow 3Net to ramp up its development and production slate to make more content for its own channel and to sell more to international channels as well.
The expansion is part of an ongoing attempt in the 3-D TV industry to address a major concern: There still isn’t all that much to watch.
As a result, diverse players from consumer electronics companies to 3-D camera rig makers – and now 3Net – have all been looking to spur consumer appetite by financing and creating more 3-D content, which is more costly than producing in 2-D and requires an extra camera.
Tom Cosgrove, 3Net’s chief executive, sees significant demand – especially overseas.
“We’ve seen interest in our content around the world and felt the time was right to fill that need,” he said. “One of the big limiters is the lack of content.”
The 3Net channel, which launched last year, is available in about 19 million households that have DirecTV service. It airs a combination of action sports, reality shows, animation and scripted series, and movies in 3-D. It has shown programs such as “Scary Tales,” a four-episode series of haunted fairy tales; as well as movies including Sony Pictures’ “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs.”
Cosgrove said the studio will develop content similar to current offerings, with a combination of series and one-off specials. About 15 projects already are in development, though he declined to give specifics.
Given the slow adoption of 3-D TV, 3Net is also diversifying by making content in 4K, which displays a picture with four times the screen resolution of HD. Sets that can broadcast in 4K are expensive and not widely available to consumers now, but the technology is expected to catch on. 3Net’s 4K productions will be in both 2-D and 3-D.
Philip Lelyveld, manager of the Consumer 3-D Experience Program at USC’s Entertainment Technology Center, said the 4K approach shows 3Net is looking beyond just 3-D.
“3Net may be questioning whether they want to link themselves to the specific 3-D technology,” he said. “They’re future-proofing their business.”
3Net launched in February of last year, just one day before the launch of ESPN 3D and amid a flurry of hype that 3-D TV could be the next big thing.
3Net is jointly owned by Sony Corp., Imax Corp. of Mississauga, Ontario, and Discovery Communications Inc. of Silver Spring, Md. The channel is based at Sony’s studios in Culver City and has studios at Discovery’s facilities in suburban Washington, D.C.
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The company is privately held and did not disclose its finances, but a regulatory filing from Imax said it lost money on its investment in 3Net last year and the year before. Cosgrove said he’s looking to grow the business by increasing the channel’s distribution to other carriers, which could make 3Net more attractive to advertisers and also bring in carriage fees.
Currently, there are only a few 3-D channels in the United States, such as ESPN 3D, which is carried on many platforms, and Xfinity 3D, which is available only to cable subscribers of Comcast Corp.’s service. None of them have large-enough audiences to register in the ratings.
Other channels have also been launching steadily overseas, such as Sky 3D, which was started in the United Kingdom in 2010, and a state-sponsored channel that started earlier this year in China, which Cosgrove said will be a major growth area for 3-D TV.
The technology hasn’t taken off quickly in the United States, partially due to people holding back on spending while waiting for the economy to improve. There are other concerns, too, such as whether people are willing to wear the glasses in their homes and growing competition from tablets and other mobile devices.
But 3-D TV sets are starting to find their way into living rooms. About 25 million 3-D TV sets were sold worldwide last year, a number that is expected to grow to 180 million by 2019, according to research firm NPD DisplaySearch.
“Despite some industry sentiment that the 3-D bubble has burst, we expect 3-D to continue to grow across several categories including TVs, portable devices and public displays,” Jennifer Colegrove, vice president of emerging display technologies at the San Francisco office of NPD, wrote in a report.
Some experts believe 4K could be a boon for 3-D, which has become a standard feature in many high-end TVs.
But with limited offerings in episodic 3-D content, the industry has been trying to prop up interest over the past few years with a smattering of 3-D special events, such as the Olympics and the Masters golf tournament.
Cosgrove said 3Net’s new push could be just what is needed to fill the void.
“To the extent that (the studio) is going to provide a richer amount of content for the 3Net channel, that’s going to help our efforts to grow,” he said.
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