College Football Is Front and Center on ESPN 3D

Sony announced at the Consumer Electronics Show this week that it will be an official sponsor of ESPN’s new 3D network, ESPN 3D, which will feature a heavy dose of college football programming. After a return to 2D in 2010, the BCS will return to 3D in 2011, as Sony has signed on as the exclusive 3D sponsor of the 2011 BCS National Championship Game and 13 regular-season college football games, where ESPN will use Sony equipment to bring the action into the third dimension.

“We’ve had some experience working with ESPN on football,” explains Alec Shapiro, SVP for sales and marketing for Sony Electronics’ Broadcast and Production Systems Division. “We did the Ohio State-USC game with a pretty significant degree of success and built up everybody’s confidence that we can do it. ESPN has the rights to the BCS games, including all the bowl games next year, so we didn’t have much of an obstacle with rights in the college space.”

Beginning in June, ESPN 3D will showcase a minimum of 85 live sporting events in 3D during its first year, beginning with the 2010 FIFA World Cup. Other events to be produced in 3D include Summer X Games, college basketball, NBA basketball, and college football. Although Sony’s sponsorship announcement focused on college football and X Games, Shapiro says that Sony will be working with ESPN on “pretty much all of the events” that ESPN has announced will run on its new network.

Sony HD cameras have been used to produce multiple 3D motion pictures and live sports events for ESPN and other networks. Sony plans to install around 11,000 of its 4K digital cinema projection systems in the U.S. over the next few years, with about 3,000 of those systems equipped for 3D.

“I think the biggest challenge for both Sony and ESPN is to further simplify 3D production,” Shapiro says. “The key for sports production is reliability and repeatability. When you start doing a game of the week, essentially, there’s got to be no surprises. For a cameraperson who works an HD camera, it’s got to be just as easy for them to work a 3D camera. The challenges are to simplify the production process and to train camerapeople, directors, and TDs on 3D production technique.”

ESPN has solidified its position as the nation’s premier sports network, Shapiro says, and, since the network played a significant role in establishing HD as a standard for sports production, ESPN is primed to play a similar role with 3D.

“Their announcement of a 3D channel has gotten the whole industry excited about the potential of 3D for sports and live entertainment events,” Shapiro says. “In terms of sports, they were the right partner for us. I think it’s great for business all around, and I think it’s going to be great for the fan.”

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