ESPN 3D Coming in June

ESPN 3D LogoFirst there was color.  Then hi-definition.  Now, 3-D?   ESPN’s betting on it:

ESPN 3D will showcase a minimum of 85 live sporting events during its first year, beginning June 11 with the first 2010 FIFA World Cup match, featuring South Africa vs. Mexico, ESPN and ABC Sports president George Bodenheimer announced.

Other events to be produced in 3-D include the 2011 BCS National Championship Game, college basketball and football contests, up to 25 World Cup matches and the Summer X Games. Additional events will be announced at a later date.

“ESPN’s commitment to 3-D is a win for fans and our business partners,” Bodenheimer said in a statement. “ESPN 3D marries great content with new technology to enhance the fan’s viewing experience and puts ESPN at the forefront of the next big advance for TV viewing.”

ESPN has been testing ESPN 3D for more than two years, even showing a USC-Ohio State college football game in select theaters and to 6,000 fans at the Galen Center on USC’s campus.

Considering that most of us have just upgraded our homes to hi-def, the prospect of having to rush out and buy new sets in order to watch a few games on one channel will make this a hard sell.  And it looks like that’s what we’re talking about here:

“This will be a meaningful step to drive adoption of 3D television sets and afford opportunities for our affiliates to create value through new product offerings, and our advertisers, who want fresh sponsorship opportunities,” Sean Bratches, ESPN’s executive vice president of sales and marketing, said in a statement.

Already a hit in movie theaters, many believe 3D is poised to take over the home market as the display technology to watch this year. Many 3D technologies will be on display at the annual Consumer Electronics Show this week in Las Vegas.

A lack of 3D programing, in particular for sports, has been one of the key barriers to adoption of 3D TV, analysts have said. Having to wear special glasses is another.

Things could change, of course, but right now I’m with Wired’s John Abell:

But it is hard at this juncture to see home 3D as anything but a niche service. As a mass medium it would be practical only if it can be incorporated relatively easily into an existing setup. Unlike the switchover to HDTV, which was an opportunity to upgrade everything,  3DTV will have to succeed or fail on the merits. Sporting events are a natural; sports bars may be inclined to invest in monster setups as a differentiator, and that may be enough to keep the hope alive while prices come down and the technology smooths out.

CSM’s David Grant, though, is more optimistic, noting that ESPN is not alone.

The 3D world is getting crowded. James Cameron’s mega-hit Avatar was born to box office glory in no small part by eye-popping 3D. The government of South Korea will invest $35 billion in 3D research over the next year. Sony, Imax and Discovery are set to announce a combined 3D channel at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas Tuesday, where an abundance of 3D TVs and related technology are expected to be unveiled. The list goes on and on.

The possibility is a tantalizing one for many sports fans.

It took forever for the networks to get aboard the hi-def train, causing many of us to wait years before converting to the new equipment.  And, frankly, even if I were in the market for a new set, I’d be leery of buying an experimental technology on the strength of a few ballgames.  And, even then, it would be a non-starter until DVR technology caught up with this change and could record in 3D.

Color, surround sound, hi-def, TiVo, and other innovations were big enough enhancements to the viewing experience that they eventually caught on.   Maybe 3D will do the same.  I’ll likely be a late-adopter, though, as I wait for the programming and technology to catch up and the prices to come down.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. sam says:

    I notice you have an ad for the TV show Chuck below this story. Last year, an episode of Chuck was run as 3D, and I watched it on my non3D plasma HD. Would we really have to buy new 3D sets?

  2. Herb says:

    Tell me about it… I’m such a late-adopter TV-wise that I’m still rocking my old tube-driven SD TV.

    From what I understand, there’s some limits to the technology that may make a home transition difficult. For instance, in some of these 3D home theater set-ups, the glasses you need to wear have to constantly ping back to the TV where you’re sitting to polarize the light correctly, and even then…better not tilt your head!

    With that said, 3D sports does have a potential market. In theaters.