‘Avatar' Fuels 3D Hype and Hope

Not only is Avatar the first fully 3D blockbuster, taking in some $370 million to date, it is the first major 3D film to be sold to a TV network now that FX has snagged the basic-cable rights in a deal that caps a week of hype and hope about the prospects of 3D programming on television.

But it’s unclear exactly how that third dimension factors into the deal, the terms of which were not made public, and what precedents it may set for 3D-film rights.

The deal likely has been structured like most other film deals, which typically bring a studio between 10%-12% of total domestic box-office receipts, with a cap that can vary from film to film. For Avatar, that’s somewhere between $25-35 million for 20th Century Fox, FX’s News Corp. cousin.

But it appears the 3D rights were bundled in as part of the package, not sold as an add-on or a separate deal, suggesting that 3D has yet to garner a premium from TV networks-even for what could end up being the second-highest-grossing film in history.

It also reflects the gamble that FX and other 3D-TV players like ESPN, Discovery and set manufacturers are making on the potential 3D-equipped home audience. ESPN and DirecTV aim to launch 3D channels in June with another venture from Discovery, Sony and Imax set for 2011. When Avatar’s TV window opens in two years, it could be a groundswell moment for the technology-or join the long list of kitschy gimmicks that failed to capture the public’s imagination.