Documentary Business

Peter Hamilton Consultants, Inc

3D: How Hot? And How Much? (2010)

We closely followed the recent NAB Conference in Las Vegas. We wanted to know: “Is 3DTV really as hot as we hear?”

The answer: “No! 3D is much hotter than we thought!”

In this edition:

  • Our first look at 3DTV as it pivots from niche to mainstream.

Next week:

  • How much expense does 3D add to a typical Factual production budget, and to which line items?

Do we want 3D?

Call it the Avatar wave: audiences went crazy over their first 3D cinema experience, and the early evidence is that many of them are eager to bring 3D home.

  • Channel 4 led European broadcasters by testing the new format with a successful weeklong 3D promotion in November.  C4’s centerpiece was a documentary:  a long-lost 3D newsreel of the Queen’s 1951Coronation.
  • BSkyB launched its Sky 3D channel in April 2010, with coverage of the Premier League matchup between Man U and Chelsea. The service was delivered mainly to pubs, where Sky reported that it was watched by 100,000 viewers. Two weeks later, the 3D audience doubled when 200,000 pub viewers watched  Man U draw with mid-table Blackburn.   
  • Amongst recent well-publicized U.S. 3D trials, CBS broadcast the Final Four via DirecTV, Cablevision tested National Hockey League games, and Comcast successfully covered the U.S. Masters Golf Tournament.

Where is the 3D Consumer Market Heading?

  • Equipment manufacturers, distribution platforms, channels, studios and leagues jumped on the Avatar wave.
  • These players formed various 3D partnerships to run trials of production and distribution processes, as well as to stimulate consumer demand.
  • Consumer electronics manufacturers are betting that 3D will become a required feature of television sets. According to research firm DisplaySearch:
    • 3D-capable TV shipments worldwide are forecast to rise from 2.5 million in 2010 to 27 million sets in 2013
    • Within five years, 3D-enabled TV sets will account for over 39 percent of all global shipments
    • The price premium for 3D capability on a TV set will fall from about USD500 in 2010 to USD175 in 2014
  • However, battles are still raging over various formats and standards, inhibiting confidence in the final economic model, and therefore holding back investment across the value chain.

The 3D Channels are Coming

  • Cable and satellite distributors worldwide are launching 3D channels to attract premium subscribers. (3D channels can be received through existing digital set-top-boxes.)
  • BSkyB is offering Sky 3D on its premium and HD subscription packages. 
  • The 2010 FIFA World Cup will ignite 3D demand worldwide: 25 of the tournament’s 64 matches will be broadcast in 3D.
  • In the U.S., ESPN 3D will showcase a minimum of 85 live sporting events during its first year, beginning with the first World Cup match.

Discovery Networks is in the Forefront

  • Discovery Networks is the 3D leader amongst U.S. Factual channels. Discovery attended NAB to promote its commitment, showcasing a 3D clip of TLC’s hit series Cake Boss.
  • Discovery recently appointed its 3D management team, comprised of editorial, production management and technical experts. 
  • Discovery has partnered with Sony to develop a small 3D camera that is suited to shooting in its programming categories.
  • However, many editorial and operational issues are being resolved, and Discovery has commissioned only a handful of 3D projects.
  • AETN, Scripps, Nat Geo and other U.S. Factual network providers are actively working on their 3D strategies.

The Empty Pipeline and the Upconversion Solution

  • 3D channels face an acute shortage of content.  For example, Hollywood is releasing only 20+/- 3D movies this year.  
  • Sky 3D plans to add other genres to its core Sports and Movies lineup as soon as 3D programs are completed. According to Sky 3D, Documentaries and Arts programs will be included in the lineup.
  • With so few original 3D projects in the pipeline, programmers are investigating the upconversion of existing HD programs.
  • Upconversion technology is not standardized: proprietary systems are common, with big variances in cost and quality.
  • Many NAB attendees said that an acceptable workflow is to shoot in 2D while pre-planning for upconversion to 3D.
  • Channels are in discussions with producers to shoot original 3D sequences to replace HD inside existing programs. The hybrid output will combine original 3D and upconverted HD.

Does 3D Change the Game for Producers?

Hoff Productions is a Real Screen Top 100 U.S. Factual production company that began testing 3D in 2009.  We asked about HP’s experience with 3D:

  • “We hear that the shooting style for 3D is fundamentally different than for SD and HD.”
  • HP: “The 3D shooting style is definitely different. Storytelling through camera movement is much more important in 3D than in 2D. Transitions from one shot to another must be planned carefully when shooting in 3D. A finished 3D program or film will have many fewer cuts than in 2D, sometimes less than half as many.”
  • “Does 3D change the editorial and production process?”
  • HP: “It does. Camera movement is often more effective than cutting. The placement of subjects and objects in a 3D frame can contribute to the editorial aspects of a production. So can shaping effects added to characters in a scene during post production. There are so many technical considerations in 3D shooting that it is mandatory to add an experienced stereographer to both the shooting and post production of 3D.”
  • “We’ve seen people become fascinated with each new toolkit that comes onto the market, and they tend play with it at the expense of the story-telling.”
  • HP: “3D has a long history, and has mainly passed through its ‘gimmick’ phase. Avatar is a model: it was quite restrained in its use of 3D. Producers of live 3D sportscasts try very hard to make the players and fields look natural to viewers, and to capture the action of the game. TV and film execs are very conscious of the importance of marrying 3D techniques with convincing storytelling.” 

The Adoption Timeline

  • HP: “Technologies, equipment and workflows are developing fast. At NAB, virtually all the manufacturers of cameras, edit systems, recording and storage systems, live broadcast equipment and exhibiting equipment showed some type of 3D-capable prototypes or available models. We expect that the industry will soon standardize around off-the-shelf products.”
  • “Do you have a sense of the pace of adoption of 3D versus HD?”
  • HP: “The general belief is that the adoption of universal standards will be smoother for 3D than it was for HD. HD took three years to become SD. 3D is on a more aggressive curve. We expect that 3D will be standard for new commissions in12 -18 months.”

The Last Word: What Could Go Wrong?

  • “What keeps the promoters of 3D up at night?”
  • MHP:  “At NAB, we heard two related  fears:
    • There is not enough experienced, trained talent in the industry to produce the volume of good 3D content that will be needed to satisfy the public.
    • And that low quality content will alienate the viewing public and do serious damage to the acceptance of 3D.”
  • adds: “With so many standards, formats and processes still unresolved, there is concern that the economic model on the content side will turn out to be be marginal, or worse.”

Note on Sources

We conduct interviews with network executives, producers, distributors and experts, as well as attend conferences and track published sources. Actual budgets, rights and deliverables vary from project to project.


Many thanks to our readers for your feedback and support! Your suggestions are most welcome with respect to both content and getting the word out about our adventure.