3D will be big, very big, for TV

It is a fair bet that almost anywhere and everywhere you look at this year's IBC there will be examples of 3D in action. Indeed, the green shoots of 3D on TV are everywhere around us. In Europe satellite operator Eutelsat has been running a free-to-view experimental 3D channel for the past 18 months. It is the same in Japan. Now BSkyB says it will have a dedicated 3D channel on air next year, while DirecTV and Fox in the US are known backers of 3D, as is Discovery Channel. Even the UK's Channel 4 is about to get into the act with a week of special 3D programming including previously unseen images of Queen Elizabeth in 3D.

Hollywood's enthusiasm for 3D is obvious as movie after movie is released to adoring fans prepared to pay a premium to visit 3D-equipped theatres. But how important will 3D be on TV?

One recent study* helps answer the question, suggesting that more than 10% of homes in the USA and Japan will be equipped with 3D-enabled TV sets, and just as importantly Europe with its massive number of TV households "will not be far behind" says research consultancy Futuresource.

"Consumers are starting to experience the new wave of 3D technologies at the cinema and through Digital Out of Home advertising, and it won't be long before there's a groundswell of demand for 3D within the home," says Sarah Carroll, Director of Continuous Services, Futuresource Consulting. "With over 200m new TVs sold across the globe every year, the potential is huge, but the industry needs to overcome some serious obstacles in order to kick start and fully realise the revenue streams.

"Most notably, technical and standards issues still need to be resolved and there is a limited supply of 3D content, with the current economic climate making new investment in production and distribution a challenge, particularly for the broadcast industry. That said, there is a real feeling of excitement surrounding 3D and here at Futuresource we believe this will translate into commercial success within the next three to five years."

All eyes will be on the consumer electronics industry, with ‘3D Ready' TVs a prerequisite to consumer adoption in much the same way as ‘HD-Ready' sets were used to seed the high definition market five years ago. An early decision on the Blu-ray 3D standard will also be critical, as packaged media will be necessary to help drive the market.

"Custom chipsets can be embedded into net-gen hardware at relatively low cost," says Carroll. "Combine this with an integrated consumer awareness programme and a coherent ‘3D-Ready' branding strategy, and the resulting price premium on hardware will more than offset the additional manufacturing costs."

Futuresource suggests that 3D on TV will definitely NOT be a niche category, and will gain traction from 2011 onwards with Blu-ray releases available as well as an increasing number of studio remastered film ‘classics' into 3D. Moreover, it sees Japan and South Korea's TV set suppliers learning lessons from the past and building multi-format sets suitable for all the likely standards. By 2015, it suggests we'll be seeing a wider portfolio of content available, embracing sport, films, wildlife and studio-based drama.

"Our analysis points to the emergence of two distinct phases as we move through the diffusion curve," says Jim Bottoms, MD of Corporate Development at Futuresource. "Currently, we're easing into the preparatory phase, which will stretch out to 2011. Here we'll see 3D movies primarily being made for theatrical release and the continued rollout of 3D digital cinema. TV manufacturers will start to roll out multi-format ‘3D-Ready' sets and glasses from 2010, VoD delivery systems will begin to include limited 3D movie, concert and sport content, and the market for 3D PC games will continue to develop.

"Our probability modeling shows the permeation phase will kick in from 2011, where - among other initiatives - we'll see new 3D movie releases on Blu-ray, re-masters of classic blockbusters like Star Wars, The Matrix and The Lord of the Rings, a wider range of 3D TV content for sports, wildlife documentaries and concerts, and studios introducing selective production of 3D TV shows and series. By 2012, more than 10% of US and Japanese homes will be ‘3D enabled', and Western Europe won't be too far behind, with 6% household penetration. Moving forward, a new generation of videogame consoles will begin to emerge, fully embracing 3D technologies, and in the long term we'll see the industry shift to autostereoscopic (no glasses) displays."