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BBC Hits Pause on 3D TV Ambitions

After recent news of the shutdown of ESPN 3D, the U.K. public broadcaster also cites slow consumer adoption of the technology.

Sabine Lisicki Wimbledon 2013 P
Getty

LONDON – The BBC's head of 3D TV ambitions has said the public broadcaster will take at least a three-year break from developing 3D programming starting at the end of the year.

Talking to Radio Times, a British weekly television and radio program magazine, the BBC's Kim Shillinglaw said viewers had not taken to the format during the broadcaster's two-year 3D pilot program.

Over the past two years, the British public broadcaster has televised several high-profile shows as experiments in 3D, including Strictly Come Dancing and natural-history documentary Walking With Dinosaurs. The BBC also is showing this year's Wimbledon men's and ladies semifinals and finals live in 3D.

"We're delighted to provide live 3D coverage as this year's championships reach a climax," said Shillinglaw on the BBC's sports website. "Major U.K. sporting events are a big part of our trials with 3D content, and this allows us to build on our work from previous Wimbledons and the London 2012 Olympics." The public broadcaster has six additional 3D cameras placed around center court at the famous tennis Grand Slam tournament for the coverage.

The BBC's step back from 3D follows other broadcasters and technology providers scaling back on their ambitions.

Just last month, Walt Disney's ESPN said it would discontinue its pioneering 24/7 3D channel before the end of the year due to "limited viewer adoption of 3D services to the home."

Despite an estimated 1.5 million U.K. households with 3D-enabled television sets, the BBC’s 3D coverage of last year's Olympics opening ceremony was watched by only around half of all 3D TV owners in the U.K.

In her interview with Radio Times, Shillinglaw described watching 3D TV as "quite a hassly experience in the home" in part because of the need to have glasses ready for the show. "I think when people watch TV, they concentrate in a different way. When people go to the cinema, they go and are used to doing one thing – I think that’s one of the reasons that take-up of 3D TV has been disappointing," she said.

The BBC’s 3D project will culminate in the 3D Doctor Who anniversary episode this November, as well as two other minor 3D projects that have to be seen through.

Shillinglaw, whose main job is as BBC head of science and natural history, will return full time to her "day job" when the BBC’s two-year project ends at the end of this year, she told the Radio Times.

She also noted that she is unsure that it should be down to the BBC to "call the whole 3D race."

Recent reports that the governing body of the World Cup soccer tournament – the world's most watched sporting event -- is reconsidering the use of 3D for television coverage of the 2014 event to be held in Brazil has also been seen as a blow to the uptake of 3D TV technology.

U.K. pay TV giant BSkyB also has been involved in 3D programming and has a channel devoted to it, but is so far showing no signs of pulling out.