LTS 2010: DirecTV’s Roberts Sees Long Road, Promising Future for 3DTV

After opening on Monday with a full day of technology workshops, SVG’s fifth-annual League Technology Summit came to an end Tuesday afternoon with a closing keynote speech by DirecTV SVP of Sports Strategy Steven Roberts. The event, which drew more than 700 broadcasting professionals, was also highlighted by an extensive set of panel discussions that provided insight into the current state of the industry.

Day One took on a new format from past years, breaking out sessions into five independent workshops: Remote Engineering, Sports 2.0, 3D Production, Audio — 5.1 and Beyond, and Information Technology and Systems. Each workshop aimed to create an interactive, open dynamic in which the attendees were encouraged to participate with workshop leaders in sharing ideas and driving conversation.

After a program that featured panels ranging from directing and producing to the evolving truck compound and the state of the industry to 3D and the digital revolution, Day Two was capped off by Roberts’s keynote, which highlighted his views on current trends in sports-video delivery and provided an overview of DirecTV’s ambitious 3D initiative.

“There is a huge amount of effort and money put into producing 3D content, and, frankly, there are not a huge number of eyeballs that are able to see it yet. But we believe it is worth it,” he said. “We tend to forget that we’re all in the entertainment business. And in that business, as we’ve seen at the box office, people like 3D and they spend a lot of money for 3D. It’s up to us to translate that into an in-home experience.”

In July, DirecTV launched a trio of 3D channels: a 24/7 linear channel (dubbed n3D), a PPV channel, and a VOD offering (DirecTV also carries ESPN 3D). Panasonic has served as the exclusive sponsor of the initiative and also assisted in producing the content needed to populate those channels.

“Unfortunately, one of the things that surprised us when we opened the 3D door was the absolute dearth of content there was to license,” Roberts said. “There was just not much usable [content] out there. Fortunately, we had great production expertise in-house, and we’ve worked very closely with our programming partners and sponsors.”

Roberts’s projections indicate that 1.5 million 3D sets will be sold in 2010 and that number is expected to at least double near year. However, the point of mass exposure is still a few years off, even by the most favorable projections. Until then, he said, the industry will simply have to be patient.

“For the near future, we’re going to have to suck it up and invest. I think the inflection point will come in a couple of years when you won’t be able to buy a TV set that isn’t 3D-enabled. At that point, it’s all about getting quality content out there and getting a return on our investment.”

Despite admitting that he does not believe 3D will ever reach the level of HD, he does see its arriving on a mass scale more quickly than HD did.

“I think it will actually take less time than HD,” he said. “DirecTV started subsidizing HD broadcasts in 1997, and it wasn’t until 2003-04 that the breaking point came. I think it will happen faster, but I also think it will be smaller than HD. I don’t think there will ever be hundreds of 3D channels, just a handful.”

According to Roberts, the key will be educating consumers and understanding exactly which content works best in 3D.

“As an industry — distributors, programmers, and CE companies — we need to educate our customers on why they should to make the investment. It has to happen on the retail side as well in the broadcasts themselves,” he said. “Some sports will be more relevant than others and will appeal more [to consumers]. This will take some trial and error — and, unfortunately, a significant investment.”

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