ESPN Pulls the Plug on 3D Channel
Broadcaster Cites 'Limited Viewer Adoption' as Decision Driver
3D TV in the U.S. suffered a body blow today as news broke that ESPN plans to shut down its three-year-old ESPN 3D network by year's end. ESPN blamed "limited viewer adoption of 3D services" for the move and said it would be recommitting 3D resources to other products and services.
"Nobody knows more about sports in 3D than ESPN," a company rep told StudioDaily in a statement via email, "and we will be ready to provide the service to fans if or when 3D does take off." For now, the company cited its ongoing experiments with Ultra HD tools in production for its HD channels as an example of advanced technological research.
ESPN 3D isn't the only 3D show in town, but it is probably the highest profile, with carriage on Bright House Networks, Comcast, Cox Communications, DirecTV, Time Warner Cable, and Verizon FiOS. It's also expensive — ESPN is well-known for commanding highly lucrative affiliate fees from its cable providers — and AT&T U-Verse was the first to complain about low consumer demand for 3D sports, dumping the channel back in 2011. Channels like 3net on DirecTV, MSG 3D on Cablevision, and Xfinity 3D on Comcast will continue to fly the 3D flag in the U.S., differentiating those services from their competitors.
But it will be interesting to see if they're all still around at this time next year. 3D viewership is so minuscule, the AP noted last year, that Nielsen ratings have a hard time even measuring it.
Of course, ESPN's move only underscores what we've known for a while — certainly since this year's CES show, if not way before that. The driver in TV upgrades over the next few years is going to be high-resolution Ultra HD displays. Whether consumers will buy 4K displays with no established delivery method for 4K content remains to be seen, but the just-announced XBOX ONE and PlayStation 4 consoles should certainly be able to accommodate some kind of 4K playback, and it's no secret that Netflix is looking to start streaming 4K sooner rather than later.