SBD/October 1, 2012/Media

Was The Launch Of ESPN 3D Too Forward Thinking For Late Adoption Of Medium?

ESPN 3D Coordinating Producer Phil Orlins can “only guess how well his shows resonate with viewers” because 3D audiences are “so small they can't be measured by Nielsen's rating system,” according to Ryan Nakashima of the AP. There are “fewer than 115,000 American homes” tuned into 3D channels at any one time, and that amount is “less than a hundredth of the 20.2 million-strong audience" lsat week that watched CBS' "NCIS," the highest-rated primetime program. ESPN 3D is “one of nine 3-D channels that launched in the years following” the late ‘09 release of "Avatar." Research firm IHS Screen Digest found that only 2% of TVs in the U.S. are “able to show 3-D programming.” ESPN VP/Strategic Business Planning & Development Bryan Burns said, "We've learned with every passing day that we were ahead of the curve further than we thought we were. We hit the on-ramp earlier than we realized at the time." AT&T last year “dropped ESPN 3D from its lineup, saying the $10 per month cost to subscribers wasn't justified given low demand.” The channel thus far is “the most aggressive network in terms of shooting original 3-D productions,” as it has “about 140 per year.” Research firm SNL Kagan found that ESPN 3D also has the widest distribution, as it “now pipes into 60 million U.S. homes.” But without “extra subscriber fees,” it could be “difficult to make a big business out of 3-D production, especially because it's more expensive than 2-D.” Burns said that companies that “run advertisements on ESPN 3D, like movie studios, actually have their ads played a second time in 2-D on ESPN and other channels so they can meet their goal of reaching a measurable number of people.” While he would not say if ESPN 3D is profitable, Burns said that it is “still a revenue-generating business that is ‘doing well,’ because of how the network accounts for revenue from distributors and advertisers” (AP, 9/29).
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