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News Analysis
Can Sports Save 3D TV?
By Swanni

Washington, D.C. (June 5, 2011) -- From Wall Street analysts to Hollywood producers, there's a growing call for the studios to dramatically reduce the number of 3D movies. Industry officials are pointing out that 3D box office revenues are continuing to fall with many consumers opting to attend the film's less expensive 2D version.

I believe there's a little too much 3D right now. I think, especially in this economy, parents don't always want to spend that extra money," Lauren Donner, producer of X-Men: First Class, recently told an industry conference.

Since the remarkable success of the 3D Avatar in late 2009, the studios have bet that moviegoers would pay a premium for 3D films. (The 3D edition is priced anywhere from 20-45 percent more than the 2D version.) But movies from Pirates of the Caribbean 4 to Kung Fu Panda 2 are generating less than 50 percent of their overall revenue from the 3D versions; a year ago, 3D films were taking in 60 percent or more from the 3D editions.

The disappointing numbers are being felt hard by the studios and 3D-related companies. For instance, Dream Works' stock fell about 10 percent shortly after it released the 3D Kung Fu Panda 2 while 3D production company RealD saw its stock fall as well.

You might say that the quick solution would be for the studios to lower the price of 3D films. But surveys indicate that Americans may be losing interest in 3D movies as a category regardless of the price due to the need to wear 3D glasses during the film, among other reasons.

The studios are planning to roll out more 3D films this summer and fall, including the third installment in the Transformers series. But if the results don't dramatically improve, it's not hard to envision a scenario in which the studios soon start limiting 3D films to animated children's films. And if they don't do well, it's possible that a majority of studios will decide to get out of 3D entirely by 2012.

Would people buy 3D TVs just to watch sports?

That would be a major blow for 3D TV makers who have bravely maintained that disappointing 3D TV sales will improve once more 3D movies are released on Blu-ray. If Hollywood begins to dry up the 3D movie pipeline, the only reason to buy a 3D TV would be to watch sports in 3D.

But is that enough?

Even 3D doubters, including yours truly, acknowledge that watching a game in 3D can occasionally be thrilling. The extra dimension can enhance your viewing experience in a way that's difficult to describe but easy to feel.

However, the special nature of watching sports in 3D is usually fleeting; there might be a moment every 30 minutes or so when you go, "Wow, that player looked like he was going to jump in my living room." But that can get old -- and so can wearing those 3D glasses during a three-hour sporting event. Even 3D TV makers caution that you should take the glasses off every 15 minutes or so to avoid headaches and other physical ailments.

So the answer to the question at the top of this article is probably no. Sports alone can not save 3D TV.

Consequently, 3D TV makers better hope that 3D movies do better -- much better -- in the second half of 2011. If they don't, the 3D TV "revolution" could be over before it really got started.

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Phillip Swann is president and publisher of TVPredictions.com. He has been quoted in dozens of publications and broadcast outlets, including CNN, Fox News, Inside Edition, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Chicago Tribune, The Financial Times, The Associated Press and The Hollywood Reporter. He can be reached at swann@tvpredictions.com or at 703-505-3064.

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