Corporation follows US sports network ESPN in dropping format as public turn away from it for cinema and TV watching
If you like watching Wimbledon in 3D, make the most of the BBC’s broadcasts this weekend – the corporation will stop making programmes in the new format at the end of this year at least until 2016 following “disappointing” takeup.
Despite an estimated 1.5m households in the UK having 3D-capable screens the BBC’s head of 3D, Kim Shillinglaw, said that using it in the home is a “hassly” experience and that “I have never seen a very big appetite for 3D television in the UK.”
But it’s not just in the UK that 3D TV is in trouble. In June the giant US sports network ESPN announced it would kill its 3D sports offering, citing “low adoption of 3D to home”.
It had been thought that sport and film would be major draws that would persuade people to activate the 3D capability of new TVs – where almost all large-screen versions have the capability.
But Shillinglaw said the process was still too complex because watching in 3D requires special glasses – either “passive” or “active”, depending on the screen. “You have got to find your glasses before switching on the TV,” she said. “I think when people watch TV they concentrate in a different way. When people go to the cinema they go and are used to doing one thing – I think that’s one of the reasons that takeup of 3D TV has been disappointing.”
BSkyB, the satellite TV provider, launched a 3D subscription service in October 2010, and said that it has 500,000 subscribers to packages that include 3D viewing, out of its 10.3 million total TV customers. It said 300,000 people watched some part of the London Olympics in 3D.
In the cinema, 3D films have failed to live up to the early promise of Avatar, released in December 2009 in the US. After a golden period in 2010 – when the format generated a fifth of all US box office revenues – its share has fallen for the past two years, even while the number of 3D-capable cinema screens has more than doubled to 45,000 worldwide.
The BBC has televised a number of programmes in 3D as part of its pilot service over the past two years, including Strictly Come Dancing, the Christmas family drama Mr Stink and the ceremonies for the London 2012 Olympics last year.
But only about half of the homes which could watch London 2012 in 3D did so, and only about 5% of potential viewers watched Mr Stink and the Queen’s Speech in 3D.
Users of 3D TVs told the Guardian that the problem with 3D TV is a mixture of price, content and comfort. Geoff Slaughter, who runs a digital marketing company and lives in Surrey, bought an LG TV which happened to have 3D capability, produced via passive glasses. “It was almost impossible to use to start with as there was so little content,” he said – though he then got a Sky subscription which offered sport.
“Live action can be hit and miss,” Slaughter said. “In tennis it’s frustrating – the bank of [3D] cameras at the matches sit below the 2D ones, so you can’t see the baseline. For football, you get a better sense of the scale of the event, but only in long shorts, corner kicks, and views from the goal line when you can see down the pitch. Any aerial shots are pretty wasted.”
Guy Clapperton, a technology journalist, said: “I’ve had a 3D TV for a while. Almost reluctantly I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s not much cop … It works as long as you can be about 20ft away from the screen (not all living rooms will accommodate this – mine’s a squeeze). And sit straight in front of it. Otherwise the effect is impaired (TVs may have improved since I acquired mine a couple of years ago, of course). So if the family’s round for Christmas or something, people sitting on the sofa that’s at an angle can forget it. That’s assuming you’ve dug out enough pairs of the glasses and nobody gets motion sickness.”
Nick Simon, account director at the independent analysis company GfK, said: “Even though doubts are currently being raised about the future of 3D, we should remember that well over 2m compatible TVs have been sold [in the UK], as well as more than 1m 3D-enabled Blu-ray players. This will at least guarantee that existing and future broadcasts and studio releases are not ‘wasted’.”
As with 3D cinema, 3D TV was launched amid a blaze of excitement among content and equipment providers that hoped that it would bring in fresh profit streams.
The BBC’s 50th anniversary of Doctor Who will still be broadcast in 3D, as well as the already-commissioned series Hidden Kingdom.
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