DirecTV Puts on ESPN's 3D Glasses

DirecTV is pushing the 3DTV ball down the field, announcing it will carry ESPN 3D -- which is promising to deliver at least 85 live sporting events in the first year -- alongside the June launch of its three dedicated 3D channels, which include a linear 3D channel dubbed "N3D." The satellite operator's N3D channel will include programming from partners AEG/AEG Digital Media, CBS, Fox Sports/FSN, Golden Boy Promotions, HDNet, MTV, NBC Universal and Turner Broadcasting System. The channel will be exclusively sponsored by Panasonic for the first year.

DirecTV's two other dedicated 3D channels will be a 24/7 pay-per-view channel and an on-demand movie channel. DirecTV HD customers who subscribe to ESPN will receive ESPN 3D at no additional cost. At least initially, when ESPN 3D is not carrying any live events, it will go dark, according to the programmer's executives.

The announcement comes amid a flurry of 3D activity in the sports space, including last week's 3D hockey matchup between the New York Rangers and Islanders, produced by MSG and carried exclusively by Cablevision Systems, touted as the first live 3D telecast to home viewers. MSG offered DirecTV the option to carry the Rangers-Islanders game but the satellite TV operator said it passed on the chance because it did not want to focus on "one-off events."

DirecTV HD customers will have access to ESPN's entire 3D programming lineup, set to include up to 25 2010 FIFA World Cup matches, beginning June 11 with the first match featuring South Africa versus Mexico. Other events to be produced in 3D by ESPN include X Games 16, 2010 college football ACC Championship, 2011 BCS National Championship game, college basketball and NBA games in 2011.

"We are excited to be the first and only distributor to announce the launch of ESPN 3D and we look forward to announcing additional 3D partners throughout the year," Eric Shanks, DirecTV Entertainment executive vice president, said in a statement.

"ESPN and DirecTV recognize the groundswell effect 3D has already had on the television industry in the last few months," commented David Preschlack, executive vice president, affiliate sales and marketing, Disney & ESPN Networks Group. "This agreement is the first step in providing sports fans access to exciting, dynamic content, as well as providing our affiliates new opportunities to provide cutting-edge product offerings to their subscribers."

By June, DirecTV said, its HD customers will receive a free software upgrade enabling them to have access to the 3D channels. Customers will need a 3D television set and 3D glasses to view the 3D programming.

By Todd Spangler, Multichannel