ESPN’s 3D Efforts Focus on Getting Pieces in Place for July Productions; Dedicated Channel Still the Goal

John Skipper, ESPN executive vice president, content, says that ESPN’s focus is squarely on ramping up production services for its own original 3D programming prior to the launch of a 3D network in June. The first month of ESPN’s 3D service will feature World Cup matches in 3D, however those will be produced by Host Broadcast Services, which is producing and distributing the World Cup 2D, 3D, Internet, and mobile device content. In July, however, the onus is on ESPN’s own production personnel and technology partners to produce events like the Summer X Games and more. The ESPN Innovation Lab in Orlando, FL, will play a key role in that ramp up.

“[The Innovation Lab] is critical for helping train our producers and crews how to present games [and events] in 3D,” says Skipper. “We are getting our producers schooled in 3D between now and July.”

Part of that process begins on Feb. 25 when ESPN’s Innovation Lab will produce a Harlem Globetrotters game in 3D.

The big question, of course, remains where and how viewers will be able to watch ESPN’s 3D content. ESPN has said that it will launch a dedicated 3D channel and it has not yet announced any carriage deals. And while DIRECTV has announced plans to offer 3D channels that features 3D content from a variety of programmers like Fox Sports, CBS, and Turner, ESPN’s intention is to have a dedicated channel.

“We will not be part of another offering,” says Skipper. “I won’t speak directly to what DIRECTV has to do as that discussion is up to my friend [and ESPN executive vice president of affiliate sales and marketing] Sean Bratches.”

Skipper says ESPN will work with TV set manufacturers (Sony has signed on as sponsor of the 3D network) to help promote the 3D service but it will primarily rely on its own products, like the ESPN magazine, Web sites and TV networks to make fans aware of the service.

“We look at 3D as more of a technology than a platform,” says Skipper. “The dedicated 3D channel is really just a distribution mechanism to get 3D in front of fans. And 3D is a technology that will probably ultimately be incorporated into all of our existing video platforms.”