ESPN, Discovery push third dimension for TV |

ESPN, Discovery push third dimension for TV

AP Business Writer

NEW YORK (AP) – Two major cable networks – ESPN and Discovery – said Tuesday they plan to start beaming 3-D entertainment into peoples’ homes for the first time.

Riding what could be one of the next big waves in consumer electronics, ESPN said it will have a 3-D channel for broadcasting live sports events in time for the FIFA World Cup soccer match on June 11. The channel will not operate 24 hours a day, but plans at least 85 live events in its first year.

Separately, Discovery Communications Inc., which owns Discovery, TLC and other cable channels, said it will partner with Imax Corp. and Sony Corp. to bring out its own full-time 3-D network in 2011.

It’s yet to be seen whether 3-D can make inroads in the home. For viewers it will likely mean buying new TV sets and wearing 3-D glasses.

But enthusiasm for the new technology has been building across the industry, with electronics makers, cable and satellite companies and content providers betting that they can get consumers to shell out for new TVs and channels. They hope 3-D blockbusters such as James Cameron’s “Avatar,” still strong in its third week in theaters, can get enough people excited about characters popping off the screen.

Last year, 3-D films took in more than $1 billion at box offices worldwide. And major electronics makers such as Sony Corp. and Panasonic Corp. are planning to market 3-D-capable TVs this year.

“The trouble is going to be, how do you take the enthusiasm about what’s happening in movie theaters and bring it into the home,” said Greg Ireland, an analyst with the market research firm IDC.

Aside from getting people to wear funny-looking glasses in their living rooms, Ireland said the big challenge will be providing enough 3-D material to justify asking consumers to buy new sets.

Another hurdle could be the inevitable wrangling over the fees that cable networks such as Discovery charge the cable TV and satellite operators that pipe their shows to peoples’ homes. Such disputes already led Scripps Networks Interactive Inc. to pull its HGTV and the Food Network from Cablevision Systems Corp. lineups this year.

Neither ESPN, which is owned by The Walt Disney Co., nor Discovery had any deals with cable or satellite operators lined up.

Discovery’s effort is still clearly in the early stages. The channel does not yet have a name or a CEO to lead it. Discovery said it has technology for converting regular programming into 3-D, which could allow it to tap its existing catalog of shows, but the company didn’t say exactly what programming the new channel will run.

Still, the company said it expects to see about 5 million early adopters of 3-D in the home over the next two years or so, out of about 100 million U.S. households with subscription-television service. And five or ten years out, it expects the technology to reach a mass audience.

“There’s no question that for the right experience, consumers are going to put on the glasses,” Imax CEO Richard Gelfond said on a conference call. “And we intend to create the right experience.”

In an interview, ESPN’s vice president for technology, Chuck Pagano, said the network is preparing for a “3-D tsunami” in the TV industry, beginning this week with the annual International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

“It brings a sense of ‘wow’ when you watch a football game,” he said. “It’s just a new universe for watching TV coming down the pipeline.”