Rumors of 3D demise greatly exaggerated

Every campaigning politician recognizes the pattern. The media build up the candidate until his or her victory is a forgone conclusion, then begins the process of tearing the candidate down. Ascendancy and demise sell papers, so every candidate is always rising like a rocket or falling like a lead balloon. For a pundit to garner enough attention to retain the title of pundit requires that said pundit is 1) definitive, and 2) just ahead of the curve.

Pretty much the same holds true in the world of consumer electronics. Yesterday’s Next Big Thing is supplanted by today’s Next Big Thing. Just a few months ago technology pundits were tripping over themselves declaring of the rise of 3D in living rooms and theaters throughout the world a sure bet. 3D in every living room by 2015 was the sure thing flying cars by 2000 were in 1950. David Pogue was among a handful of pragmatists and questioned the hype just after CES 2010.

First of all, those glasses. E-w-w-w. Do we really want to have to put on glasses every time we sit down for some TV? Don’t we lose something when we look around the room to exchange glances, and we can’t see anyone’s eyes? Do we really want to nuzzle up to our fiancées and spouses with those things on?

Certainly very few (if any) consumer electronics or studio executives believed the hype earlier this year, but who’s going to argue when the mainstream media is declaring your latest and greatest a smashing success? You don’t get to run these huge companies without some understanding of your customers’ technology adoption rates – especially after the decades-long gestation of HDTV. They knew that standards battles loomed. A sober assessment of the 3D landscape shows the industry has been making reasonable investments in the technology. No film was slated to be released 3D-only. No television network was going to make 3D-only programming. No set manufacturer announced plans for 3D-only sets. Everything was not going 3D. Jennifer Aniston and Oprah were to remain 2D experiences.

Any wannabe technology pundit worth his blog’s revenue stream, can’t say, “Everything’s going fine. 3D is coming at a reasonable rate. What you want to see in 3D you can, and in a few years when you’re ready to buy new TVs there will be just enough 3D content available that you’ll consider a stereoscopic set.” What’s the fun in that? So here come the 3D obituaries.

Last week Adam Frucci asked in Gizmodo if 3D is already dying. The blog entry is not terribly over the top, but its overly simplified arguments and limited statistical sampling should be questioned. Frucci cites the downward trend of 3D revenue as a percentage of total box office receipts of five films since Avatar as evidence 3D may have peaked. He are the key flaws in his arguments:

  • Five is an awfully small statistical sampling. It represents about half a year’s output. While acknowledging Avatar was unique — marketed as a 3D event, he fails to consider that the rest of the films sampled appeal to a younger demographic. Among preteens, mom and dad often make the decision whether the movie is watched in 2D or 3D. Price consciousness and concerns whether a squirmy eight year-old can stand to wear glasses for two hours factor into the decision.
  • Frucci also assigns a direct relationship between the success of 3D in the theater with the success of 3D in the living room. That’s nowhere near a sure outcome. The television networks are not depending on 3D Hollywood fare to be the primary driver to build demand for 3D broadcasts. They are clearly betting on sports. ESPN and BSkyB are not looking to the studios to supply them with content, and Discovery is looking to produce its own non-fiction 3D content as well. The 3D set manufacturers don’t need Blu-Ray 3D players to drive sales as much as the article implies. Gamers and live broadcasts are their primary drivers.

It’s clear that many writers over-hyped 3D after CES and NAB 2010, but it’s also far too soon to declare 3D is dying. The technology will get more affordable, the glasses might go away, and producers will hone what content works best in the medium.

4 Thoughts on “Rumors of 3D demise greatly exaggerated

  1. Revenue from 3D is apparently dropping as a proportion of box office.
    http://www.businessinsider.com/3d-movies-are-still-killing-it-2010-7

    But that does not take into account differences in audiences and whether or not the film was originally created in 3D (good) or a 2D conversion (often awful)

    But count me among the 3D TV skeptics. At least for the moment.

    Philip

  2. Of course I would never say that this is just the same 3D cycle I have watched so many times before in my life… Oops, I just did. ;-)

  3. Good point, Philip. Elaborate on your 3D TV skepticism. Testing shows that audiences enjoy watching sports in 3D. Are sports and gaming not enough to drive adoption?

  4. While I haven’t watched any 3D sports, my understanding is that the coverage (by necessity, in not wanting to make our brains explode) has to be very different to what we’ve come to expect from sports coverage in general. Things like fast camera moves and very wide shots don’t really work in 3D.

    Also I tend to think (although I haven’t seen a lot of 3D film) that much of what we’ve come to expect as an audience isn’t compatible with 3D – someone said, for example, that The Bourne Ultimatum could never have been made in 3D, the audience wouldn’t be able to cope.

    I also recently watched “Journey To The Center Of The Earth” which was made for 3D and described it as suffering Made-For-3D-Itis – where aspects of the story were clearly written, and shots designed, to make for impressive 3D viewing. In 2D it was just a bit weak. I found the same in watching Tim Burton’s Alice in 2D.

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