ESPN 3D Focused on Home Market, Not Theaters

ESPN expects to deliver close to 100 events in 3D over the next year, up from the original promise of 85, according to Sean Bratches, EVP of sales and marketing. More important, he adds, the network’s 3D efforts will be focused on the home and not on theaters and other potential venues.

“Based on our affiliate relationships, we don’t want to circumnavigate the home,” he said during a one-on-one interview with Multichannel News Editor in Chief Mark Robichaux at the 3DTV2010 Conference held in New York City on May 25. “There is interest in the theater market, but our decision to go in the home is based on the fact that that is where we can drive the largest audience and our affiliate business.”

The conference, produced by New Bay Media, was the latest in a series of 3D events designed to educate and inform. The conversation with Bratches kicked off nearly four hours of panels.

Bratches said that ESPN 3D carriage on DirecTV and Comcast Cable will put it in more than 40 million homes when it launches on June 11. That number, he said, is larger than the number of homes that could receive ESPN HD when it was launched in 2003.

“We’re very encouraged as we look at the horizon, both from a fan standpoint but it is also very important from a distributor standpoint to have new products for our affiliates,” he added. “And the consumer-electronics industry can expand beyond HD and use our brand as a driver.”

One of the big revenue questions facing the industry concerns 3D-related advertising, both the 3D kind designed to take advantage of the format and the 2D kind designed to sell 3D sets. With respect to the former, Bratches said that only 3D commercials will run on ESPN 3D and that the network has already finished promos for SportsCenter and spots from other partners, like Sony, will be available in 3D on June 11.

“The big opportunity is on our [2D] linear networks and digital platforms,” he said. “We have such an interconnected biosphere that 3D will elevate our brand and help us drive revenues across all our platforms. It is a marketing tool that elevates affiliate revenue, advertising revenue, and the perception of our brand.”

Will consumers understand the value proposition? Bratches believes that the consumer already has a better understanding of the 3D value proposition than they did the HD value proposition when it launched.

“This is a real new driver of business for 3D affiliates,” he said. “And, like in HD, consumers will ultimately want content that makes sense, and we are in a good position to deliver that [content].”