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The 3D Business Gets Rolling

As 3D programming heats up with new channels from ESPN and DirecTV, mobile production vendors have responded by building new stereoscopic 3D trucks capable of handling live and taped productions for sports, music and entertainment shows.

In the past month, three new 3D trucks, each worth around $10 million, have hit the street. They include two 53-foot units from mobile production giant NEP Broadcasting of Pittsburgh, and another 53-footer from All Mobile Video of New York. Despite the high cost of 3D production, which vendors say runs three to five times the price tag of conventional HD, the new trucks are already busy this summer and their owners say steady inquiries for new 3D shoots keep pouring in.

NEP’s newest truck, SS32, is dedicated to ESPN’s new 3D channel, ESPN 3D, and will handle the production of 60 events over the next year. Equipped with a range of PACE 3D rigs that include Sony cameras and Fujinon lenses, SS32 made its debut with ESPN 3D’s production of the Home Run Derby at the Major League Baseball All-Star Game in Anaheim, Calif., on July 12, and is now busy handling X Games 16 in Los Angeles.

NEP’s second 3D truck, SS31, which replaces the SS3D truck that ESPN used to produce The Masters in 3D last spring, is also busy. SS31, which NEP views as its “ad-hoc 3D truck,” is booked for about one event per week through the end of the year, according to NEP Chief Technology Officer George Hoover; it is handling sports, concerts and entertainment work. “It’s kind of all over the map,” Hoover says.

All Mobile Video’s new 3D unit, Epic, handled its first shoot July 21 with a taping of a Sheryl Crow concert for PBS’ Soundstage series, held at New York City’s Roseland Ballroom. The primary production for Soundstage, which is sponsored by MasterCard, was a conventional 2D shoot with seven cameras. But the show’s producer, HD Ready, also recorded the concert simultaneously in 3D, using five 3ality Digital camera rigs, with the hope of creating a Blu-ray disc or a show for a 3D network down the road. The show was co-produced and directed by Joe Thomas, who worked on Kenny Chesney’s 3D concert film.

While live sports productions have used a second, dedicated truck for 3D, the Epic truck was used to handle both the 2D and 3D productions, with simultaneous monitoring of the 2D and 3D cameras provided in its large control room. AMV President Eric Duke says that the dual-format production was made easy by the unique production environment for Soundstage, which is taped with a relatively small audience in a venue where “seat kills” for placing additional 3D cameras is not an issue.

Epic, which was built this winter with equipment and design input from Sony and demonstrated at NAB in April, is booked to handle 10 more 3D productions through October, including several more Soundstage shoots. Duke says that the majority of those are simultaneous 2D/3D productions, with some clients needing a 3D show now and others viewing a 3D archive as a smart play for monetizing a show in the future, much as HD was a decade ago.

“Suddenly, we’re getting very busy,” Duke says. “We had a lot of inquiries after NAB.”

AMV has heard strong interest in 3D from Broadway theaters and ballet/dance companies in New York, according to Duke, and has two projects in that area slated for later in the year. AMV, which focuses more on music and entertainment projects than sports production, has also had preliminary discussions regarding tennis and football.

Producers already accept 3D as a technology, Duke says, but experience a “bit of sticker shock” when they see the cost of 3D production, particularly if they don’t have any new revenue against it. He says new business models such as live broadcasts to theaters, which All Mobile already produces in 2D for New York’s Metropolitan Opera, will be required for the format to really take off. “The only way people are going to be able to monetize 3D,” he says, “is to come up with new revenue streams.”

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