Erotic Movie Broadcasters Rare Exception to 3-D TV’s Disappointing Growth

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PARIS — Erotic film broadcasters are among the few markets stimulating demand for 3-D television as mainstream broadcasters shy away from the expense of producing 3-D content, a situation that will disappoint satellite fleet operators that had imagined 3-D becoming as popular as high-definition (HD) television, according to Europe’s two biggest satellite companies and a new market survey.

The situation is unlikely to change anytime soon. Informa Group’s Ovum consultancy, in a survey of broadcasters in Europe, North America and the Asia-Pacific, found that investment in 3-D content is a low priority in general, especially in North America.

Until recently, 3-D was viewed as the next big thing in broadcasting. Because it requires more bandwidth than HDTV, which is more bandwidth hungry than standard-definition television, 3-D was encouraged by satellite operators as a motor for future growth.

That has not happened. In Europe, where the two dominant satellite operators, SES of Luxembourg and Eutelsat of Paris, both count on television broadcasting for most of their revenue, the drop in enthusiasm for 3-D has been sharp.

SES now counts just seven 3-D channels, two of them from Penthouse Digital Media Productions Inc., creator of erotic content. The other 3-D broadcasters now on SES satellites include Sky 3D for Britain and Germany, Canal Plus 3D in France, Viasat 3D in Scandinavia and Brava3D, the French broadcaster of opera and other cultural content.

Eutelsat similarly counts just a handful of 3-D channels, according to spokeswoman Vanessa O’Connor.

“We see 3-D beginning as a market based in the cinema and other out-of-home events,” O’Connor said May 25. “The TV market will come after that. We think it will come, but it will not see the same quick market pickup as we have seen in HDTV.”

SES spokesman Markus Payer agreed. “We never expected it to be like HD,” Payer said May 24. “3-D still lacks a clear business model for broadcasters, especially for free-to-air broadcasters. For them it is difficult to justify the investment. For special feature documentaries and sports events, broadcasters will be looking more closely at 3-D and will develop knowledge of how best to produce it. We are helping them with this, just as we did with HD.”

Part of the problem with 3-D is the lack of technical standards governing production, a problem that dogged HDTV’s development in its early stage as well.

“The virtuous cycle — common technical standards, ease of production techniques, the accumulation of popular programming — has not been created yet in 3-D,” Payer said. “It’s the same chicken-and-egg problem. Without programming, it’s not popular, and it won’t get popular until there is more programming. Penthouse is a counter-example. We knew erotic broadcasts would be among the early adopters of 3-D.”

The Ovum market study suggests that the early adopters are still far from passing their enthusiasm over to broadcasters of general interest |programming.

The study, “Media and Broadcast Technology Investment Strategies,” found that spending money on 3-D programming is low on the list of priorities of broadcasters. A majority of respondents to the Ovum survey said 3-D content production was “not an important business consideration,” which was the highest negative rating among the 11 investment areas featured in the survey.

“[T]he high cost of 3D production, particularly live content, has limited content availability and delayed some channel launches,” said Tim Renowden of Ovum, the principal author of the report, in a May 20 statement announcing its conclusions. “Given the lack of enthusiasm for investing in 3D content production and delivery expressed by broadcasters, this situation is unlikely to change rapidly.”

The lack of interest is particularly strong in North America, which produces much of the world’s most-watched programming.

Producing video in 3-D requires a major investment in equipment and personnel. Officials from sports network ESPN of the United States have said that filming a sporting event in 3-D requires not just many more cameras on scene than HDTV, but a new mindset on how to show images to the public. This requires re-educating otherwise veteran producers on when and how to switch angles.