Groups Plan to Launch 3-D TV
At Least Four Networks Would Offer Shows,Video-on-Demand Movies in the U.S.
By SAM SCHECHNER
At least four new 3-D television networks are in the works, as entertainment and electronics companies look to push 3-D movies, TV programs and sporting events into more American homes.
The new networks are part of a larger effort to surmount a chicken-and-egg problem that has long bedeviled 3-D's expansion into the home: how to convince consumers and media companies to invest in a technology when there is both little content and few people with the equipment to watch it.
[3DTV] Discovery Channel
The Discovery-Sony-Imax venture would feature series, such as 'Atlas 4D,' above, covering sites from the pyramids to the Great Wall of China.
DirecTV Inc. is planning to launch two 3-D channels and a 3-D video-on-demand service in the U.S., according to a person briefed on the project. The channels and service, which could be announced as early as Wednesday, would offer movies and other content, the person said.
A DirecTV spokesman declined to comment on the plans.
The DirecTV channels would join two 3-D television networks announced Tuesday. Discovery Communications Inc., Sony Corp. and Imax Corp. said they were forming a joint venture to launch one using their movies and TV shows in 2011. Meanwhile, Walt Disney Co.'s sports-TV unit, ESPN, said it would launch a network later this year that will air matches from the upcoming World Cup soccer contest, as well as from other sports.
Is the next big thing for home entertainment be 3D television? Sam Schechner discusses the scramble to provide content to match the technology.
The efforts come as a flurry of electronics companies plan to unveil new 3-D-enabled TV sets at the Consumer Electronics Show this week in Las Vegas, and as Hollywood spends more to make movies like "Avatar" for the multiplex. ("Avatar" is distributed by Twentieth Century Fox, which is owned by News Corp., publisher of The Wall Street Journal.)
"You have all this capital being driven into the creation of this 3D content," said Richard Gelfond, chief executive of Imax. Studios "want to find a way to make back that money in the home," Mr. Gelfond said.
The new networks will face a significant hurdle as few people have the equipment to watch 3-D at home. In 2010, only about 1% to 2% of the 35 million flat-screen TVs that will be sold in the U.S. will be 3-D-enabled, estimates Riddhi Patel, an analyst for iSuppli Corp.
The companies behind the new channels believe they can help drive adoption. "I don't think there's a more powerful platform than sports to demonstrate what 3-D can do," said Sean Bratches, ESPN's executive vice president of sales and marketing.
The new Discovery-Sony-Imax joint venture could offer 3-D movies and TV series from Sony, nature and science series from Discovery, and 3-D movies that Imax has long shown in its big-screen theaters, the companies said. Unlike the ESPN channel, which will be available only when events are aired, their channel will be on the air 24-7.
Already, ESPN and the joint venture say they have had very early discussions to put the new 3-D services on channel lineups of major U.S. TV distributors. A spokeswoman for Time Warner Cable Inc. said the company had had preliminary discussions with some of the ventures.
"We've always been on a mission of having our programming be closest to real," said David Zaslav, chief executive of Discovery. "If there's demand for 3-D, the distributors are going to want to have it."
"We are very interested in developing 3D content for our platform and our customers," Derek Chang, DirecTV's executive vice president of content strategy and development, said in a statement supplied by a spokesman.
Both ESPN and Discovery were big early proponents of high-definition TV technology.