ESPN Bullish on 3D Uptake

New York — For some perspective on
3DTV’s prospects, consider how ESPN HD
launched in 2003 and how ESPN 3D will
launch on June 11.

ESPN HD launched in March 2003 on some
of the smallest cable distributors, the likes of
Comporium Communications, Service Electric
Cable TV and Utilicom Networks, ESPN
executive vice president of sales and marketing
Sean Bratches recalled last week.

ESPN 3D will launch on the top cable
operator (Comcast) and the top satellite-
TV provider (DirecTV) on June 11, with access
to more than 40 million
homes. That’s much more
than the ESPN HD launch,
though the 2003 rollout did
start with some larger operators,
such as Cox Communications.

“We’re very encouraged with the slate of
affiliates we have going into the marketplace
with ESPN 3D,” Bratches told Multichannel
editor in chief Mark Robichaux in opening
the May 25 3DTV 2010
conference, co-sponsored by
MCN, Broadcasting & Cable,
and other NewBay
Media publications.

Asked if ESPN had any new
affiliates to announce, Bratches
said, “we’re continuing to
move on that front.”

He said that by 2019, ESPN
believes penetration of 3D
sets in the home will be below
HD sets, but above digital
video recorders. “I think
the home rate will be high,”
he said.
Being the
first mass 3DTV programmer
is important to the ESPN
brand and to helping advertisers
— particularly TV
equipment makers like ESPN 3D partner Sony
— drive business opportunities, he said.
ESPN 3D will only take 3D commercials, he
said, but ESPN is pitching 3D-related advertising
across its platforms, and that’s where the
biggest revenue potential lies. ESPN has already
produced its first “This is SportsCenter” spot in
3D, he said, and Sony will have a 3D commercial
on the new network when it launches June
11 with FIFA World Cup soccer games.

Bratches emphasized that
while ESPN has shown 3D
events on an experimental basis
in theaters, ESPN 3D will be focused
on “the home experience”
to suit distributors and advertisers
needs. “We don’t want to
do anything to circumnavigate
the price-value relationship of
ESPN to our affiliates.”

Producing live sports events
in 3D is still a learning experience
for ESPN, he said. The
programmer plans to bring in
semipro football players to a
field in Hartford, Conn., to work
on covering different downand-
outs, fly patterns and other passing maneuvers.
ESPN is working with arenas around the
country to find the best camera angles to suit
3D, he said. “We’re really digging our cleats in
to make sure that the consumer experience is
second to none.”

Bratches said ESPN 3D will likely have a
roster of about 100 events the first year, up
from the previously promised 85.

Kent Gibbons

Kent has been a journalist, writer and editor at Multichannel News since 1994 and with Broadcasting+Cable since 2010. He is a good point of contact for anything editorial at the publications and for Before joining Multichannel News he had been a newspaper reporter with publications including The Washington Times, The Poughkeepsie (N.Y.) Journal and North County News.