SBJ SMT: The Business of 3D

It’s no secret in the industry that 3D production is expensive, but, at Sports Business Journal’s Sports Media Technology Conference this week in New York, attendees found out just how much it costs.

“It was about six times the cost of a normal game,” Ray Hopkins, COO of the YES Network, reported. “And we do 14 cameras for a normal Yankees game. From a cost perspective, it’s somewhat prohibitive. You need a separate truck, separate technical personnel, announcers, cameras.”

Added Jerry Passaro, SVP of network operations and distribution for MSG Media, “the biggest deterrent is the cost.”

Alternative Production Methods
To alleviate some of those costs, ESPN is working toward being able to use one production team to produce both a 2D and 3D broadcast of a game, and the NBA has done some experiments with single-camera 3D.

“At that point, our intention is to give you a courtside seat, with everything that comes with that,” explained Steve Hellmuth, EVP of operations and technology for NBA Entertainment. “You’ll see the referees walking in front of you, the play going down to the other end of the court and coming back to you. I’ve watched entire NBA games from a single 3D camera, and it’s a great experience. That’s one way people can experience 3D without the huge fees required for multiple-camera events.”

Such a solution also works for events where the main cover camera — say, on the 50-yard line in football — does not offer much depth because it must be placed so far away from the field of play. Another option to bring costs down is to incorporate selected 2D cameras into a 3D broadcast. For CBS’s production of the Final Four, the production team used a 2D aerial camera that gave a big-game look to the broadcast and was upconverted to a makeshift 3D using the switcher.

“From overhead, you don’t really get that 3D effect anyway,” explained Ken Aagaard, EVP of engineering, operations, and production services for CBS Sports. “I mixed that into the 3D feed because you want to make the event look important. The dilemma that we all face is, you have to be able to show the three dimensions but also show the ball going into the hole. There’s an interesting dynamic there that we all struggle with.”

Is 3D Like SD to HD?
Mark Hess, SVP of advanced business and technology development for Comcast Cable, said the good news is that, this time around, the distributors are 3D-ready; with HD, they were not. However, without turning 3D into a business, Passaro said, the medium has a limited future.

“Affiliate revenue will make it a business,” Hopkins added. “We’ve seen this movie before, in HD. When the parent companies call and say we want games in 3D, that’s when we’ll get it done.”

Although some are quick to liken the SD-to-HD transition to today’s HD-to-3D jump, others are not sure that the parallel is quite equal.

“I don’t see 3D being like SD to HD,” Aagaard said. “I see 3D being more of a niche. Hopefully, it will be a big niche. For us, the manufacturers have been paying for the party as it relates to production costs. When that well goes dry, where is that revenue really going to come from?”

Varied Demand for 3D Content
The other important question to ask is where does the demand for 3D come from?

“When I grew up, I was my dad’s remote control,” Hess said. “We all sat there as a family and watched TV. Now my wife’s doing something on her laptop, my daughter’s on her phone — it’s difficult to get a group of people together and really enjoy a 3D experience.”

Internationally, however, there may be additional opportunities for 3D production.

“We’re starting to engage with our international licensees about delivering 3D,” Hellmuth said. “Canal Plus did a six-camera 3D telecast of FC Barcelona versus the Lakers, and it looked really good. There will be some interest in cinemas for the NBA, especially in Asia, some distribution via computer, and then potential for the league for compilation DVDs. There’s no single wow factor here, but it’s just beginning.”

Added Chuck Pagano, EVP of technology for ESPN, “once you get more of a complement of programming together, you start to create business models that make sense.”