ESPN’s 3D Study Helps Alleviate Fears and Supports Business Model

At a press event in New York City today, ESPN revealed the results of its comprehensive new study of the 3D experiences of ordinary people. I was at the event and this looks to me to be the most comprehensive study done to date to understand the enjoyment and impact of watching 3D content.

And the bottom line results? Viewers did enjoy the 3D experience over the 2D HD experience even though there were some complaints about headaches and fatigue. Many measurements confirmed this, but additional analysis is needed to be sure the study was well constructed and gathered meaningful data.

The only document released publically was a press release on the study — even the briefing slides used in today’s presentation were not released. But I am hopeful the research can be shared with appropriate bodies including the Human Factors Steering Team of the 3D@Home Consortium.

The research was supported by ESPN Research + Analytics, who worked with the Disney Media and Ad Lab in Austin, Texas, and Dr. Duane Varan, a professor of New Media at Murdoch University in Western Australia. Dr. Varan gave the main briefing on the research results.

The research was comprehensive and based around having viewers watch the live broadcasts of the FIFA World Cup football (soccer) matches in controlled environments. This included 3D ads. 2700 hours of viewing data was collected from over 1000 "testing sessions." No firm number of participants was given as some participants were involved in multiple sessions. I would think it involved a few hundred people, however.

The goals of the study were fairly simple: 1) to determine if watching 3D sports content created a better experience for the viewers; 2) to determine what adverse effects might the viewing create; 3) and to find out if advertisements are more effective in 3D. This last point is critically important. It will be the advertising revenues that will fund the continued roll out of 3D content, so advertising is at the heart of a viable business model.

There were four 3D ads that ran over the course of the World Cup event, but two were discounted as they would not easily compare to a 2D version of the same ad. Ads for Toy Story and Gillette formed the basis of the results. The results should be encouraging for potential advertisers:

  • Cued recall went from 68% for the 2D ad to 83% for the 3D ad
  • On average, purchase intent went from 68% to 83%
  • Ad liking went from 67% to 84%
  • Brand attitude went from 72% to 78%

Bryan Burns, VP, Business Development and Strategy at ESPN, was also at the event and responded to recent press articles that noted how ESPN was concerned about the business model for 3D and that they might not continue with a second year of 3D.

"Those comments were made in Europe by an engineer who should not have said them," said Burns. "The 3D business is on track and right where we want to be. We have not made a commitment to continue to produce 3D beyond June 2011, but I can say we are a little ahead of where we thought we would be, and some of our affiliate deals for 3D run beyond that date." The above advertising data should help in building the business case and enable a second year of 3D production.

Burns likened 3DTV to HDTV some seven years ago, but noted there were differences. "We started out with two SD and HD crews to start, but we were able to eventually merge them to create both telecasts. We are not so sure we can do that with 3D. Right now, all we want to do is concentrate on making each new 3D event better than the last one. We will worry about convergence later."

The study also found that enjoyment increased from 65% to 70% when going to 3D — a modest gain. But the feeling of presence went from 42% to 83% — a significant gain and right in line with what good 3D should do.

We asked if the data took into account the increase in quality of the 3D content over the course of the event, but this factor was not evaluated.

And unexpectedly, the study found that people with the poorest level of depth perception (measured prior to 3D viewing) had the best 3D experience.

By Chris Chinnock, Display Daily