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Forrester’s Focus: 3DTV... Back On The Menu
By Chris Forrester, Editorial Director, Broadgate Publishing

Despite some previous—and perhaps justifiable—doom and gloom, there was a noticeable spirit of optimism at the Cannes MIPtv programming market in April, and we make no apology for using the 3DTV ‘focus’ at Cannes as our reason for a major examination of 3D’s prospects for satellite operators.

forresterFig1 Tom Morrod, a senior principal analyst at IHS/Screen Digest, set the scene for the event by stating simply, “broadcasters, and viewers, are desperate for new 3D content.” Indeed, that was the overwhelming message during two days of conference activity. Morrod told delegates that the TV market [for 3D] was having a mixed success. While plenty of ‘3D ready’ sets are being sold, far fewer buyers are also investing in 3D glasses. “Manufacturers are failing to include glasses in their new sets, and viewers are simply not making the extra, and expensive, investment in glasses, especially if they are the active-shutter models.”

He told delegates that, in his view, so-called glasses-free displays were “still years away.” He forecast an increasing take up of 3D displays over the next few years, and touching 80m (internationally) by 2015. This would equate (in markets such as Western Europe, Japan and Australia/New Zealand) to about 35 percent of all TV homes by 2015. The USA market would be reaching 50 percent of all TV homes by 2015.

But the number of channels today is miniscule and few broadcasters have any plans to do much more than add a few 3D channels. By any measure, 3D's televisual future is never going to replicate HDTV's growth. However, BSkyB could be the exception, and last week they announced that the company now has more than 250,000 3D viewing homes, and they were widening the psossibility of adoption.

Morrod said 3D made sound business sense for pay-TV broadcasters, and even with the low number of channels currently on air they could still generate VOD ARPU uplifts of 17 percent in the U.S., 20 percent in the U.K., and a 40 percent premium in France.

Morrod, along with all of the other speakers, saw the upcoming Olympic Games as a terrific opportunity for 3D viewing, with broadcasters anticipating more than 100 hours of live content, and plenty of opportunities for re-run material of the highlights. BSkyB’s director of 3D, John Cassy, said that Sky would be opening up access to its 3D transmissions to more than 4 million homes, and saw tangible revenues flowing post-games. “Our EuroSport 3D channel will broadcast exclusive 3D action every day during the Games.  This will be a mix of around eight hours of live coverage alongside four additional hours of the day’s main highlights, and will provide the most comprehensive 3D coverage of the Games on British television.”

One of the Cannes keynote speakers was Erwin Schmidt from Neue Road Movies in Germany and the 3D producer for last year’s Oscar-nominated dance movie ‘Pina’ (directed by Wim Wenders). He admitted that he is charmed and convinced by 3D. “I am also aware of the fact that 3D faces rather difficult times today, to some of you it might feel the party is over. At least the novelty factor is no longer there. And with this I agree. However, I claim TV is ready for 3D and 3D is ready for TV!”

He argued that TV was wrong to depend solely on Hollywood, and sports, for its 3D content. “We believe that 3D cannot be stopped, so the industry should embrace it. But the never-ending battle over Formats (Active vs Passive) should be settled. Glasses need to be more ergonomic. But productions need to be conceived with £D at its heart.”

ForresterCallout1 Schmidt is putting his creative money where his mouth is, and is making 10 half-hour special movies in 3D for TV. And Wim Wenders is making a new 3D film.”We are still at the very beginning of this development in using 3D as a window into another world.”

Another keynote came from Jim Chabin, president of the International TV Society, a self-confessed evangelist for 3D in all its forms. But his numbers were compelling, talking of record numbers of 3D sets shipping (up 26 percent q-o-q), and likely to be 22 percent of this year’s shipped LCD displays. In fact, China has a commitment to launch 10 all-3D channels within the next five years. Prices of sets are falling, and programming is flowing, he stated.

Chabin says he is excited by the growth in high-quality TV programming. “3D documentaries are recreating the genre. Old footage is being found in archives from WWII, the U.S. Civil War, and other unlikely sources. Documentary work is exciting. Sports are dazzling in 3D. BSkyB and ESPN and others are really accelerating the quality and excitement of sports in 3D. And the live concerts look beautiful from Japan, the U.S. and Europe. So we see an across-the-board acceleration of production techniques which boost viewer excitement.”

Chabin says that broadcasters are also getting savvy about budgets. “They are finding that, by using newer, less expensive technology and software, they can produce quite a bit of content at pretty efficient prices. This allows them to pull additional funds together to make really spectacular, eye-popping, programmes. Again, this reminds us of when television moved to colour, or more recently, to HD. We now save on these productions in order to spend more liberally on a program, or series, which will catch the attention of the public, the press, and dazzle viewers. So, it’s remarkable that, as different as 3D appears to senior managers, in reality, the same rules apply to making a great 2D network or channel. Costs are coming down. Producers are getting better at creating cost efficient production budgets. And we see a day, relatively soon, that the cost of producing 3D will be no more than the cost of producing 2D.”

“The TV industry is very adaptive,” he added. “What’s exciting now is that the flatscreen makers are advancing user friendly technology faster than anyone expected. We anticipate new 3D breakthrough technologies in the market within three to five years, when not long ago, people felt the next generation of 3D platforms was 10 years away. With most major brand flatscreens being ‘3D ready’ consumers are continuing to buy into the technology. Tablets, smartphones and videogames are in this mix, as well.”

Chabin’s message was echoed by Spencer Stephens, CTO at Sony Pictures. He argued that the usual grumbles that 3D content is too expensive to shoot, too expensive in post production, and much too expensive in staff and craft skills, was fast-changing. He especially argued that 3D need not be just for movies, sport and music concerts. Sony has invested its cash into some fascinating 3D experimental shoots, on scripted comedy series and ‘Days of Our Lives’, a very long-running U.S. soap opera. The end results were superb, taking the viewer ‘into’ a much more immersive experience. “And they didn’t cost a moment’s extra filming. There were no delays. ”You can shoot 3D on the same schedule as 2D. You can shoot 3D on a similar budget as 2D,” he argued. It was all down to planning.

ForresterCallout2 Stephens says producers must plan. “Proper planning can really make 3D affordable but the larger issue is how to increase the availability of 3D at home to drive adoption and make it worth producers’ investment. Most cable systems could adapt their existing feeds so that 2D feeds go to 2D households and 3D feeds go to 3D households, but to date this hasn’t been done because the traditional networks aren’t simulcasting in 3D—yet. If there were more shows in 3D, viewers would be interested in watching them, so Sony Pictures Technologies is partnering with the creative community to demonstrate how 3D content can be easy and affordable to produce so they will increasingly see it as a viable option for their shows. As with any new entertainment technology in the home, the availability of people’s favourite content is really what drives adoption.”

One of the more aggressive content-producers is 3net, a joint-venture between Sony, Discovery and IMAX, and the channel is investing heavily in new 3D content. 3net reached a major milestone at the end of 2011 by broadcasting its 200th hour of original content, not bad for Year 1.

GlobalLink_ad_SM0612 “It gives 3net the world’s largest library of native, original 3D content,” said Mark Ringwald, head of 3net’s acquisition efforts. “Since then we continue to premiere at least one new series a month. In January we launched the original series, ‘Tough Love Garage’ about the cantankerous but soft hearted owner of an auto body shop, ‘Hillbilly Blood: The Hardscrabble Life,’ which takes a look at inventive and ‘make do’ life of the people in the backwoods of the Appalachians, and the acquired series from Discovery Networks International and produced by Renegade Pictures, ‘Safari Park Adventures’. On April 8th we will simulcast with Animal Planet an episode of their extremely popular series, ‘River Monsters’, in 3D as they air the program in 2D.”

For 2012 they have on the slate a new music series, a Mixed Martial Arts fighting series, as well as 13 new episodes of ‘Dream Defenders’, their kids’ animation series. “Later in the summer we are looking to premiere our ‘Storm Surfers’ where experts hunt down and ride the world’s biggest waves, and, before the end of the year, look for ‘The Human Body’, a look inside ourselves as we truly are, in a way never seen before.”

Ringwald says production budgets have remained, for the most part, stable this past year. “Eighteen months ago the camera and editing solutions were (for the most part) either handmade, a work-around, or a patch to an existing system. Since then single body cameras, like the Sony TD300, and editing systems specifically designed for 3D have become available improving both workflow and efficiency. After a year and a half of experience we are a lot smarter and so are our production partners, so there are a lot fewer surprises (which always means more money) along the way.”

To the doom-sayers who suggest that 3D-TV is just a flash in the pan, Ringwald reminds us that 3D adoption rates continue to outpace the adoption rate of HD. “Projections forecast that by 2013, 45 percent of new U.S. TVs sold will be 3D and by 2015 that number reaches 63 percent with 73m total 3D TV sets in U.S. homes. That’s an audience!”

ForresterCallout3 The key words that Jacquie Pepall, Director of Production at Dimension Media, uses in describing her 3D work are “creative”, “innovative” and “exciting”, and it’s fair to say that in the increasingly important world of 3D production for TV (and cinema) Dimension are at the cutting edge. “One of the trends we’ve witnessed over the past year is that 3D productions are steadily more innovative and adventurous,” says Pepall. “On the whole, we’ve seen more creative and experimental techniques such as time-lapse and macro photography used in 3D productions, as well as new systems such as body rigs. As 3D facilities and technology improve, productions are becoming braver and more inventive.

“David Attenborough’s ‘Kingdom of Plants’, a series produced by Atlantic productions for Sky 3D, is absolutely stunning; the added depth brought the plants to life in ways we couldn’t have imagined,” she explained. ‘Kingdom of Plants’, shot largely at the U.K.’s magnificent Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew, West London, is being aired this Spring on Sky 3D. Pepall adds: “We have a few other exciting documentary and drama projects that will be broadcast later this year. In terms of viewer feedback, we’ve found that when the story and the programme concept are good and the 3D is complimentary—it’s a win. For example, the viewer response to BBC’s Strictly Come Dancing [the ‘Dancing with the Stars’ format] was hugely enthusiastic (it sold out to 21 cinemas).”

ForresterCallout4 Pepall admits that she’d love to see more drama and comedy on air in 3D. “One of the somewhat unexplored avenues of 3D is traditional narrative formats such as dramas and sitcoms. There is a significant opportunity with these formats to use 3D to enhance the narrative and emotional content of the story. For example, the jokes in a comedy might be better articulated using 3D; equally, 3D can bring an added emotional depth to a scene. We would love to see a costume drama in 3D.”

3D costs, at least for long-term equipment rental, are coming down, she says. “We’ve seen movement in both directions. 3D workflows have improved and crews and production teams have become more efficient and knowledgeable about 3D. So in that sense, 3D budgets and production schedules have decreased. However, we’ve also seen a wonderful increase in the degree of adventure, difficulty, and ambition associated with 3D projects—and breaking new ground can require higher budgets.”

The good news is that she is finding it easier—and necessary—to secure production partners and co-producers. “We’ve found that the complexities of producing 3D, as well as the costs involved, have made it more compelling for companies to partner on productions. Certainly we’ve found that there is a lot of interest from other companies in getting involved in 3D projects—partnerships are forming all the time.”

forresterFig2 One of the key advantages is time. The past year has seen new developments in camera technology, with lightweight side-by-side units, and a growing number of ‘pro-sumer’ camera equipment which are extremely suitable on some shoots. There’s also a growing number of so-called 5D productions, where the same rigs are used for both 2D and 3D image capture.

Kathleen Schroeteris Executive Manager, Fraunhofer HHI’s 3D Innovation Center in Berlin. “While for film the higher production cost and the bulky production equipment (e.g. mirror rigs) can be accepted, much higher production costs for TV and still a very small audience is not acceptable. We are facing the same problems as in the beginning of HDTV, only when inexpensive flat screens became available, HDTV became a success. Nevertheless, the sales of 3D-capable TV sets is five times as high as those of HD receivers in the beginning of HDTV.”

Schroeter says bluntly that most 3D for TV productions simply cannot fund a doubling-up of camera rentals and so forth. “This is the challenge for the next few years: to develop production equipment, which allows the production of 3D content at comparable prizes as HD content. One of our targets is the development of fully automatic 3D cameras, which do not need a stereographer but which can be used by cameramen as with 2D cameras.”

ForresterFig3 She also sees the initial hype of 3D fading away as viewers—and filmgoers —become more demanding. “The big 3D hype is over, people are becoming more realistic. But this is not only negative, because the 3D projects planned right now are maybe more serious than two years ago.”

The conference heard speaker after speaker affirm that 3D for television will grow. New channels will emerge once the content exists to support the channel. And the Palais des Festival at Cannes had ‘standing room only’ signs for delegates. In other words, the interest from the production community was considerable.

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Sky: U.K., Germany + Italy Confirm 3D

More than two intensive days at MIPtv, which focussed entirely on 3D-TV, the senior staff from BSkyB, Sky-Deutschland and Sky Italia, all confirmed their commitment to growing their investment in 3D-TV.

John Cassy, BSkyB's director of 3D said that Sky's 3D numbers now topped 250,000 viewing homes, and he was already budgeting an increased spend in 2013 as part of Sky's five-year plan for 3D-TV. "All our viewer satisfaction rankings go through the roof for 3D," he told delegates at MIPtv's 3DTV Focus event in Cannes.

Much the same story came from Cosetta Lagani, Sky Italia's head of 3D-TV, who explained that the Italian channel, despite only launching on September sixth last year, had already achieved considerable success stories, helped by transmitting the final of (the Italian) 'X-Factor' to huge viewer and critical awareness, as well as special live outside broadcasts such as the transmission of Aida (in partnership with Opera Verona). She told delegates that the planned 200 hours of Olympic Games coverage in 3D would only help this story, and that Sky Italia's commitment to soccer, tennis, golf, rugby and other sports, would help continue the drive to greater 3D acceptance.

Stefan Heimbecher, head of innovation and standards at Sky Deutschland, also barely 18 months old as far as 3D transmissions were concerned "and counting," said Heimbecher, would maintain its 3D commitment, especially now that greater distribution was coming from many of Germany's cable distributors. Sky Germany aired the 2012 Golf Masters event in April in 3D, as well as the upcoming UEFA Champions League Final (from Munich) in May.

Heimbecher said that continued development of less-expensive camera rigs, as well as greater use of so-called 5-D production (using one camera position to generate both 3D and 2D images) was helping to keep production costs in check and to increase efficiencies as well as cut down set-up times. "We must get rid of the 3D production overhead in sport," he said, "and reduce crew costs, production and other costs. It is happening, and we can see further savings being made in these areas. 3D-TV is here today, and to stay."

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Fox: Glasses—Free TV Doesn't Work

Twentieth Century Fox believes that glasses-free 3D TV technology and poor real-time 2D to 3D conversion are doing more harm than good when it comes to showing off 3D. Danny Kaye, executive vice president, Global Research and Technology Strategy at Fox told a conference in London that 3D will thrive as a format, but consumers need to see movies as the director intended them, and not filtered through below par TV technology.

"As long as a film is made in high-quality, you may never tell the difference between a true 3D movie and a post-converted one," Kaye told PEVE delegates. "But, what is harming the idea of 3D is real-time conversion…Whether it is 2D to 3D conversion in real-time on a TV set, or versions of no-glasses 3D TVs… we do not need [these technologies] yet as they cannot match the quality of professional conversion services or the filmmaker shooting it in 3D to begin with."

Kaye is optimistic about the future of 3D but said it will take time: "3D is a very complicated technology to get right, it's not so hard to get wrong."

His biggest concern is that techniques such as glasses-free 3D and real-time conversion aren't helping in the perception of 3D to consumers. "We shouldn't stunt the growth of 3D at this early stage by introducing techniques that do not show off 3D in the best light."