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BSkyB Reaffirms Commitment to 3D TV

BSkyB
Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg/Getty Images
BSkyB

While ESPN and the BBC are ending 3D initiatives, the U.K. pay TV giant says its focus on big events and its role as both a content producer and distributor has made 3D work well for it.

LONDON -- British pay TV giant BSkyB, in which Rupert Murdoch's 21st Century Fox owns a 39 percent stake, has reaffirmed its commitment to 3D TV.

As of last week, more than half a million BSkyB TV customers had signed up to watch 3D, "bringing to a close our strongest quarter of growth to date," said John Cassy, director of Sky 3D, in a blog post.

"Yet that’s not to say there haven’t been challenges in reaching this landmark," he acknowledged. "It’s early days for 3D TV in the home -- and it is also fair to say that the market isn’t quite where some people had hoped it would be by now."

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His comments came after ESPN recently announced it would drop its ESPN 3D network, and the BBC's decision last week to hit the pause button on its 3D initiative.

"Certainly the ongoing economic downturn has meant that households are tightening their belts, and people have upgraded their TV sets to 3D at a slower rate than the industry first forecast," said Cassy. "Some potential viewers may have also delayed experiencing 3D, preferring to wait for new technologies, which mean they don’t have to wear glasses ... And some industry critics say the technology side is still complex and adds extra cost to the production process, which some broadcasters struggle to recoup through their existing business models."

But the BSkyB exec said he doesn't agree with suggestions that 3D TV isn’t finding its audience.

"Our experience of 3D TV has been far more positive despite these challenges," he added.

First, "3D has been a great way of helping our customers get move value from their Sky subscription by providing a unique, immersive 3D experience at home for no additional cost," he argued. "This is because -- unlike some other providers of 3D programming, in the U.K. or U.S. -- we are a platform operator as well as a content producer. This means that a significant proportion of the value of providing great TV in 3D lies in how it helps attract new customers to join Sky and in how it provides another reason for existing customers to stay with Sky."

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Second, he cited research that shows that Sky 3D viewers are among the company's most satisfied customers, with sports, movies and natural history their favorite genres. "That’s why those areas -- big event TV -- are our focus moving forward," Cassy said.

He also lauded BSkyB's "close partnerships with the major U.S. studios," saying they have allowed the company to bring "the best 3D movies to our customers and at a volume greater than any other provider of 3D to the home anywhere in the world." Among BSkyB's recent 3D movies have been such titles as Avengers Assemble, The Amazing Spider-man and Brave.

Said Cassy: "Hollywood’s continuing belief in the power of 3D is another factor, which has helped to sustain the appetite, with directors continuing to believe in its potential to enhance great storytelling, and studios and cinemas continuing to make significant profits from their investment in 3D."

The BSkyB executive also predicted, based on conversations with TV manufacturers, that high-quality TV sets that will allow people to watch 3D without glasses will be available "at a price not dissimilar to today’s HD and 3D TVs in two to four years’ time."

Cassy's conclusion: "We recognize that, at this stage in its development, 3D isn't for every-day viewing like on a standard TV channel. This is why we continue to believe it is about focusing on big events, where the technology really benefits viewers."

E-mail: Georg.Szalai@THR.com

Twitter: @georgszalai