New York -- The number of consumers watching television in the third dimension in their homes, and the quality of their experiences will increase significantly over the next few years.
That was the opinion of executives speaking on a video services panel at New Bay Media's "3DTV 2011 What's Next?" conference here on Thursday afternoon.
They envision the format taking off in the home over the next few years as technology continues to improve and impediments, relative to consumers wearing active or passive glasses and the need for more content are surmounted.
"Technology will improve all around in years ahead, and that will bring more eyes to 3D sets," said Clyde Robbins,
a distinguished member of the technical staff of Motorola Mobility, on the "Winning Over 3DTV's Front-Row Fans" panel, which was part of the Nov. 18 event hosted by Multichannel News, Broadcasting & Cable, TWICE, TV Technology, DV and Videography.
Tricia Lynch, senior programming executive, Verizon, said FiOS was pleased with its test of producing the Sept. 2 NFL preseason game between New York Giants and New England Patriots in 3D from the New Meadowlands Stadium and delivering the contest to its customers in New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts and Rhode Island. She called the event "incredibly successful" based on the number of "enthusiastic" phone calls the company received, a total of 4,000 between the two markets. Verizon also was pleased with the quality of the telecast, particularly after halftime, when feedback helped the producers focus more on "the best seats in the house" view.
FiOS is interested, Lynch said, in finding about consumer appetite for 3D movies on demand. The telco recently began offering eight 3D titles, including Chicken Little and Journey to the Center of the Earth, which rent for $7.99, versus $5.99 for HD films.
Lynch said Verizon, which has struck an affiliate accord to carry ESPN 3D, beginning in 2011, had not yet found the "appropriate" license fee to distribute the upcoming joint venture 3D channel from Discovery, IMAX and Sony.
Meg Lowe, senior vice president domestic distribution, Discovery Communications, who joined the programmer in late September from MTV Networks, said the yet-to-be named service will bow in 2011, with a mix of nature programming and films from its partners. "We expect to be the leader in 3D with the largest native 3D library in the world," said Lowe.
After the panel discussion concluded, Lowe said service is on target to launch in the first quarter with some 100 hours, a total she expects will "double by the end of 2011."
How big the 3D network world will become in the years to come was a matter of some debate on the panel, which was moderated by Multichannel News technology editor Todd Spangler. The panelists didn't anticipate the industry would come anywhere near the 100-plus HD networks that are available today, because not all programming genres would necessarily embrace or benefit from the technology.
Tom Cosgrove, the president and CEO of the 3DTV network joint venture of Discovery, Sony and IMAX, predicted there would be 20-40 3D channels within the next five years, while speaking on a CTAM Summit 2010 session in New Orleans last month.
Lynch anticipates 3D channels will reach the 20-30 range. "We'll get there faster, but there won't be as many channels," she said, adding that not every channel needs to be in 3D, while bemoaning the impact of glasses on adoption. "They really limit multitasking. You can't look at your BlackBerry or cook dinner with them on, things you do now while watching TV."
Chris Chinnock, president of marketing research firm Insight Media, said that might not necessarily be such a major factor in the years ahead.
"When the [3D] format becomes crafted perfectly, viewers will expect to be immersed in the environment," something that will "change their perception and behavior."
Chinnock said things will begin to change toward a more passive 3D world shortly. He said that consumers have to weigh the 3D cost equation at home by gauging the combined cost of the set and the glasses. While passive sets cost more, the attendant glasses are not priced as highly as the active ones. The situation is reversed relative to active sets and their more pricey glasses.
He noted said there will be more of a passive push in early January in Las Vegas. "I think that will be the big story in 3D at CES," Chinnock said.
Speaking of stories, Lowe said 3D adoption tale will unfold in a similar manner as HD did. "Content providers need to create compelling stories and programming that will create interest and demand and then work with distributors to get the product out there," she said.
Robbins also said there are parallels between adoption of HD several years back and what lies ahead for 3D. However, he believes the nascent technology holds an advantage because its HD predecessor laid the groundwork for today's consumers, who are now more knowledgeable about the value/quality of LCD and plasma sets. "There won't be getting rid of CRT [cathode ray tube] issues this time," he said.
Assessing the technology's prospects in the home environment, Robbins thinks 3D's growth will be slow over the next couple of years. "After that, it will go very fast," he said.