3D Ad Flow May Be Faster Than Forecast

ESPN 3D grabs early interest; dual-format production looks feasible
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ESPN HAD expected few advertisers to initially come onboard for its new stereoscopic channel, ESPN 3D, with the notable exception of electronics giant Sony, which is sponsoring the channel’s launch. But last week ESPN announced that Procter & Gamble, along with Disney’s Pixar animation unit, had created 3D spots in time for ESPN 3D’s coverage of the 2010 FIFA World Cup.

The spots for P&G’s Gillette brand and Pixar’s upcoming Toy Story 3 3D feature, which will run alongside Sony spots for 3D sets and ESPN “This Is SportsCenter” promos, won’t necessarily bring in extra revenue, as they were bundled in with larger advertising buys across multiple ESPN outlets. But they are a sign that 3D advertising might take off faster than HD advertising did more than a decade ago, due both to changes in technology and a different level of consumer awareness.

ESPN has seen interest in 3D spots from unexpected places, including advertisers outside of predictable categories like TV set-makers and movie studios that are trying to directly monetize 3D products. Advertising insiders say that luxury automakers Mercedes-Benz and Lexus have already produced 3D spots (though ESPN has not named them as 3D advertisers), and predict that gaming will be a big 3D category.

Companies want to be seen as “tech-savvy” by having their brands associated with 3D, says Tag Garson, ESPN senior director of acquisition strategy. Garson adds that consumer awareness of 3D in its early days is much higher than it was for HD because consumers have already seen the technology in digital cinemas. “The enthusiasm is greater for 3D than HD because of the movie experience,” he says.

Producing spots in 3D is certainly more expensive than in HD, though advertising executives speaking last week at a DG FastChannel-sponsored panel on 3D advertising were reluctant to put a price tag on it. But the premium may be low compared to the costs of airing live sports in 3D. While sports productions have required a separate truck and set of cameras to achieve optimal coverage, 3D and 2D versions of a commercial can be shot using a single set of 3D cameras.

That was the experience of Vincent Geraghty, VP and content architect for Chicago-based advertising firm Leo Burnett Worldwide, in creating two 30- second spots for Samsung’s 3D LED sets that began airing this spring. Samsung’s main goal was to pitch 3D sets to 2D viewers, but it also had an opportunity to show 3D versions of the spots in digital cinemas. That prompted Geraghty to produce the spots originally in 3D in high-end fashion, hiring Avatar cinematographer Mauro Fiore, PACE’s Fusion 3D cameras and Venice, Calif., post-production house Digital Domain.

“We got a 2D extraction out of it,” Geraghty says. “Basically, you can take one of the eyes [the left-eye camera feed] and output an HD master.”

Creating a 3D spot was not without its challenges. No post house in the Chicago area had the capability to display the 3D spots for client review, Geraghty says. So, he convinced a local AMC cinema to rent out its 3D theater for an afternoon.

Ed Ulbrich, president of the commercial division for Digital Domain, cautions that with 3D spots there was really “no such thing” as post-production.

“You’ve got to be doing it throughout the process,” Ulbrich says. “You can shoot things in a way that may look great on-set, but if you haven’t seen them contextually in the edit room, they could be uncomfortable or painful to watch.”

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