How Much Impact will 3D on TV Make?

3D is coming to British TV later in 2010. BSkyB says the public will first see demonstration broadcasts in public places ahead of the dedicated channel that they’ve promised for next year. While not being specific it is probable that Sky will tap into its mainstream soccer subscribers, and showcase 3D test-transmissions at soccer stadiums and other high-profile, high-volume, venues. These could include pubs and bars. But how many 3D channels might make it to air?

The current promise is for a single channel, but BSkyB has a long tradition of under-promising and over-delivering. While some other European broadcasters offer barely a handful of HDTV channels, Sky currently offers well over 30 and some sources suggest that their eventual total could reach 70-80 channels in HD. Some informed sources say Sky will employ the same strategy as far as 3D is concerned.

Not that there will be 70-80 channels in 3D – at least not for some time yet. But it is recognised that Sky has in mind to build up – over time - an offering of close to about 10 3D services. The coming year will see a raft of suitable TV sets coming onto the market, and Sky is also looking to see supplies of polarising filters become available that could be fixed to existing HD sets.

The first list of channels is pretty easy to create. Sky’s first 3D channel might well be a compilation service, showing a game or two of soccer each week, plus other flagship programming. That might comprise highbrow ballet or drama, as well as natural history, music and travelogue-type programming which is perfect for showcasing 3D. As for its initial cluster of stand-alone 3D channels they are easy to predict. For example, Sky can be expected to invest heavily in sport, and soccer in particular, so a Sky Sports 1 in 3D can be depended on, followed as with its HD service by additional sports channels in 3D.

It’s the same with movies. Hollywood is known to be seeking another pay-TV ‘window’ for its growing portfolio of 3D programming. How quickly Sky Movies in 3D grows to Sky Movies 2 in 3D depends entirely on Hollywood – but the studios growing enthusiasm for 3D movies is clear to see.

While Discovery Channel or National Geographic can be depended upon to supply suitable 3D programming (and remember that Nat-Geo in the UK is part-owned by Sky), whether these modest elements will eventually form dedicated channels is still to be seen. But documentary and factual programming is being made in 3D.

However, if viewers remember back to the early days of HDTV (all of 3 years ago), these same thematic channels kicked off their HD offerings with just a couple of hours of heavily rotated programming each day. The amount grew, and quickly evolved into full-time HD services. The same pattern can be expected to shape the emergence of 3D into stand-alone channels.

Sky is already investing in ballet, and has a relationship with the English National Opera. It also backs the Hay on Wye book festival with nightly HD transmissions, and perhaps this could migrate to 3D. In other words a Sky Arts in 3D might be an early addition even if only for a few hours a week.

We have already mentioned serious music, opera and ballet, but Sky has also experimented with pop music and anyone who has seen trial transmissions of stadium rock concerts in 3D have been wholly astounded. Sky might follow this route (it carried a test broadcast with rock band Keane this past summer), but it is also likely that MTV could easily climb upon this bandwagon.

Consequently, Sky’s debut channel will – in our view – quickly grow. How quickly they get to 8-10 channels is anyone’s guess, and will depend wholly on available programming. But Sky’s roadmap is already well defined, and they’ll have had talks with potential broadcasting partners.

We also have experimental 3D transmissions promised by the BBC from next year’s FIFA World Cup soccer festival, as well as the 2012 London Olympic Games. The TV industry hopes that all this activity will soon be driving consumers back into the stores to buy suitable sets. Sky’s 3D activity will be viewed with considerable interest by Europe’s other pay-TV broadcasters.

By Chris Forrester, Rapid TV News