Discovery, Sony, IMAX Detail 3D Plans
Will serve as equal partners in 24-hour network set for 2011 launch
By Glen Dickson -- Broadcasting & Cable, 1/5/2010 10:47:39 AM
Discovery says it will start talks with distributors Jan. 6, and that there are no carriage deals currently in place, though it expects the channel to be a broadly distributed entertainment channel, not a premium offering.
The partnership aims to launch in the U.S. in 2011 with a mix of 3D-friendly content, including natural history, space, exploration, adventure, engineering, science and technology, motion pictures and children's programming from Discovery, Sony Pictures Entertainment, IMAX and other third-party providers. It will also explore international distribution opportunities in the future.
ESPN announced ESPN 3D earlier Tuesday (Jan. 5), but has only committed to that network through June, 2011. Discovery, Sony and Imax say they are committed to their project long term. On a conference call with reporters, Discovery founder John Hendricks likened the launch to that of Discovery HD Theater in 2002. Hendricks said that the network will target primarily early adopters for the first 24-36 months, people who will likely be the first to buy television sets that are 3D capable. After that, the target households will be the 20 million affluent homes in the U.S., after which the technology and the price point will likely be affordable to the average consumer.
"That marketplace will come up pretty quickly, and then you start rolling out to the masses," Hendricks said. "In 2002, with the HD channel, few would be projecting we would be in 40 million homes by now."
The channel will require specialized glasses like one would wear at a movie theater 3D screening, though Sony CEO Sir Howard Stringer said they expect 3D sets that do not require glasses to be available in about 3-5 years.
"We intend to create the right experience, they are going to want to put on glasses," said Imax CEO Richard Gelfond.
The companies also say the channel will require about 6 megahertz of bandwidth. That's about the size of a standard analog cable channel, but they can get two or three HDs down that capacity using 256-QAM Modulation.
The companies have signed a non-binding letter of intent to form the JV, and have not released financial details of the agreement. Discovery, Sony, through its U.S. affiliate, Sony Corporation of America, and IMAX each will be equal partners. Governance for the joint venture will be handled by a board of directors comprised of members from each of the three companies, with the day-to-day operations run by a separate staff and management team reporting to that board. The JV has already begun searching for a general manager to run the venture's general manager will begin immediately.
"Discovery's business strategy has always focused on delivering groundbreaking content through new platforms, including the first suite of digital channels launched in 1996 and the first 24/7 basic cable HD channel in 2002," said Discovery Founder and Chairman John Hendricks in a statement. "Now, as Discovery celebrates its 25th anniversary in 2010 as the world leader in satisfying curiosity and bringing audiences the most realistic viewing experience, we continue to change the face of television with the launch of the first-ever 24/7 dedicated 3D television network."
Discovery will provide network services, including affiliate sales and technical support functions, as well as 3D television rights to Discovery content and cross-promotion across its portfolio of 13 U.S. television networks. Sony will provide advertising/sponsorship sales support, and seek to license TV rights to current and future 3D feature films, music-related 3D content and game-related 3D content, while providing cross-promotion at retail stores. IMAX also will license television rights to future 3D films, offer promotion through its owned-and-operated movie theaters across the U.S., and provide a suite of proprietary and patented image enhancement and 3D technologies.
Discovery's involvement in the 3D venture is not surprising, as Discovery executives have privately mentioned their interest in 3D for months and have already considered which shows would work in 3D and which ones wouldn't. For example, Deadliest Catch was referred to by several executives as a show that wouldn't work, as it would likely make viewers seasick. As discussed in the Dec. 30 Broadcasting & Cable TechTalk (click here to listen), Chief Media Technology Officer John Honeycutt and other Discovery engineers have been evaluating "dimensionalization" technology from several firms as a potential way to convert 2D archive content to 3D in post-production, which would be more cost-effective than shooting new 3D fare with specialized cameras.
Sony and IMAX have already collaborated on 3D movies in theaters for years, and are natural technical partners for the venture. While Sony is obviously making a big push on the 3D display side, following its efforts in digital cinema projectors with a new line of consumer 3D HD displays, it is also heavily involved in 3D HD production technology.
Much of the 3D HD content shot in recent years has been done with specialized rigs that incorporate Sony HDC-1500 cameras, including the James Cameron movie Avatar and live broadcasts of college football games produced last year by Fox and ESPN. Sony is also expected to have a role in ESPN's new 3D channel that was announced today, as it has already formed a partnership with FIFA to produce a number of 2010 World Cup matches in 3D.
"Sony is the only company with expertise in every part of the 3D value chain," said Sir Howard Stringer, Chairman, CEO and President of Sony Corporation, in a statement. "We are delighted to be partnering with Discovery and IMAX, two premier companies also dedicated to leadership in 3D, in this groundbreaking new venture. It is clear to us that consumers will always migrate to a better and richer entertainment experience, and together we are determined to be the leader in providing that around the world."
Who will carry the new 24-hour 3D channel remains to be seen. But the launch of a new DirecTV satellite last week has fueled speculation that DirecTV will launch a 3D HD service next year, something 3D insiders have suggested privately for months. The blog HDGuru.com reported that DirecTV will use the new DirecTV 12 satellite to start an all-3D HD channel offering an assortment of movies, sports and programs in 3D, and that it will announce the new service at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas next week.
According to the report, which cited unnamed sources, DirecTV's current HDTV boxes will receive a firmware upgrade to allow existing subscribers to receive HD 3D programming that will be compatible with new 3D-capable HDTV sets from Panasonic, Sony, Samsung, LG and other TV makers, as well as existing Mitsubishi DLP sets that would require a 3D converter box. All the sets would require DirecTV subscribers to wear special glasses to view the 3D content.
DirecTV spokesman Robert Mercer wouldn't comment on the HDGuru.com story. But in an email message, Mercer did allow that "3D is something we are very interested in and we're looking at all of the various pieces of the puzzle that need to be put together."
While 3D has created buzz in movie theaters, delivering it to the living room remains a challenge for multichannel operators. DirecTV is seen as the most likely U.S. pay-TV operator to launch a 3D service because it enjoys a national footprint, it has already deployed bandwidth-efficient MPEG-4 set-tops with powerful processing chips, and moreover, it has already established the precedent of selling expensive subscription packages like "NFL Sunday Ticket" to sports aficionados. Nascent 3D fare could be marketed in a similar fashion.
Alex Weprin contributed reporting.
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