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Sony, Discovery Channel, Imax Launching First 3D TV Network

5 Jan, 2010 By: Erik Gruenwedel

With 3D television front-and-center this week at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Sony Corp., Imax Corp., and Discovery Communications Jan. 5 said they had formed a joint venture aimed at launching the first 24-hour 3D television network.

While no launch date for the unnamed network was announced, executives said the venture would target the 5 million early adopter homes that typically gravitate toward new technologies such as 3D televisions, projectors and enhanced glasses, which all will be on display this week at CES.

The Consumer Electronics Association said it expects manufacturers to sell 2.2 million 3D TV units in 2010, with 25% of all TVs capable of 3D broadcasts by 2013.

While traditional anaglyph 3D technology requiring two-toned paper glasses has been around since the 1950s, recent 3D theatrical releases use special screens, projectors and enhanced glasses.

“3D is the future of high definition and most important development since HD, and we think it will ignite a new upgrade cycle in consumer devices. From cameras, projectors and Blu-ray players to televisions, consumers will be driven to purchase 3D,” Sony chairman and CEO Howard Stringer said in a media call. “It’s an opportunity for content creators to develop a new form of creativity and create a new experience for customers.”

Calling the joint venture television history, Imax CEO David Gelfond said James Cameron’s sci-fi epic Avatar underscored consumer interest in 3D when the film generated 25% of its domestic box office Jan. 4 on Imax screens, despite representing just 2% of the film’s available screens.

“That gives you a sense of the power of 3D,” Gelfond said.

Discovery founder and chairman John Hendricks said 3D would enable consumers to seek out closer-to-reality TV experiences.

The companies said a search is underway to find a CEO to run the new network, which they plan to expand internationally in the future.

“The momentum of 3D in the last six months has been quite striking,” Stringer said. “We are very excited about it.”

In addition, ESPN and Comcast Corp. separately announced plans to bow programming and channels devoted to the 3D format.

The Walt Disney Co.-owned ESPN said it would launch a 3D channel this summer in time for the 2010 FIFA World Cup soccer tournament in South Africa, including the Mexico-South Africa match June 11.

George Bodenheimer, co-chairman, Disney Media Networks, and president, ESPN and ABC Sports, said the new channel would not operate 24 hours day (like ESPN), but would broadcast about 85 sports events in its first year, including the Summer X Games, college basketball and football — the latter concluding with the BCS National Championship game in Glendale, Ariz., Jan. 10, 2011.

Chuck Pagano, VP of technology for ESPN, said the network was preparing for the“3D tsunami” he said is sweeping the TV industry as consumer electronics manufacturers attempt to replicate in the home the 3D theatrical experience from hits such as DreamWorks Animation’s Monsters vs. Aliens, Disney/Pixar’s Up, Universal’s Coraline, and 20th Century Fox’s Avatar — the latter topping $1 billion in global box office largely due to its 3D appeal.

Indeed, ESPN has been testing 3D for more than two years to try out transmission and gauge fan reaction to a 3D telecast versus a traditional telecast.

Last fall, it produced the USC vs. Ohio State college football game, which was shown in select theaters as well as to 6,000 fans at the Galen Center on the USC campus.

Finally, Comcast said it is offering The Final Destination on demand in 3D today (for anaglyph glasses) concurrent with the Warner Home Video title’s release on DVD and Blu-ray Disc. Comcast, which recently acquired NBC Universal, last year broadcast On Demand in 3D My Bloody Valentine, Jonas Brothers: The 3D Experience and Coraline.

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