NCAA: We Almost Had To Do 3D

As with HD, once 3D reaches a certain penetration point, broadcasters will have no choice but to use the medium. For the NCAA, that point came this year — at least at the theatrical level.

“I think it became pretty clear after this year’s consumer-electronics trade show, when so much of that was 3D-driven, that we almost had to do it,” says Greg Weitekamp, director of broadcasting for the NCAA. The Final Four “is a major sporting event and the way 3D is going, especially now that it’s out in the consumer market, the Final Four is a great launching point. It’s good for CBS and good for us to be in that space.”

Conversations about a 3D presentation of the Final Four began last year between CBS and the NCAA, and, says Weitekamp, the agreement came together naturally, buoyed by the financial support of corporate partner LG. CBS handled all of the technical coordination of the broadcast, and the NCAA made sure there was enough space in the compound to park an additional truck and enough cabling and positions in the arena to accommodate six extra cameras.

“For us, the logistics came down to event planning,” he says. “What’s good about going into these larger, newer buildings is, the buildings can now handle the infrastructure. They’re pre-cabled, and there is plenty of power, so you have the ability to do it. Three or four years ago, in some of the buildings we were in, I’m not sure if it would have been possible.”

The biggest logistical challenge, Weitekamp says, is trying to effectively dole out space, so that the 2D production has the area it needs and the 3D production has enough room to spread its wings.

Given that the football-stadium configuration of the Final Four is set through the next bid cycle, logistically at least, it would seem that 3D could become a staple of this event. But Weitekamp says the next step depends on where the technology goes.

“If this takes off when DirecTV gets their service launched or when ESPN launches their channel, then that’s the next step,” he says. “Go back to 2002, when HD was just coming out. The question was, when do you jump into the HD space on an annual basis? And that’s a question that we have to work out with our broadcast partners.”

As long as there are fans to consume it and an LG-type corporate partner steps up to help with the financing, Weitekamp says, “I don’t know why we wouldn’t keep doing it.”

What “it” looks like, however, will certainly change based on the reaction in theaters and adoption in homes. This year’s broadcast was a trial, to determine the market for live 3D in theaters. Consumers will drive the demand, he says. If fans want this technology in the home, that is where it may end up next.

Weitekamp’s responsibilities have been split between Indianapolis and San Antonio, where the women’s Final Four takes place, so he did not have a chance to watch any of the 3D content produced at Saturday’s semifinal games.

Monday night, he was in the right city — though not in front of a monitor. A Butler grad, he watched the game from the stands.

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