Media Forum: Will 3D attract advertisers?

3D has flourished in cinemas but will it take off at home?

There aren't many 3D-ready television sets in UK homes. Hardly surprising, really, given the fact that they only became commercially available in the spring. After all, they're not cheap (Amazon will knock you out a Samsung 3D set for £835 while stocks last but most gear seems to be retailing for somewhere around £1,500) and they haven't been marketed yet with any great conviction.

So kit hasn't exactly been flying off the shelves - according to the market research agency GfK, the rolling UK sales total to the end of August was 20,859. And if you believe recent Deloitte/YouGov forecasts, that situation isn't about to change overnight, with only 2 per cent of households planning to buy 3D-ready television sets over the next 12 months.

As of last week, however, that prognosis may need a slight adjustment. Sky expects to have up to 200,000 subscribers by mid-2011 and while the earliest adopters bought 3D equipment in order to watch 3D films on BluRay, they now have a couple of full-blown channels they can access.

Or fullish-blown. On 28 September, Virgin launched 3D Movies on Demand, an ambitious branding given the fact that, on launch day, it only had one film, StreetDance 3D, on offer. More, we must assume, will follow. Especially as BSkyB, which has been making the run-ning this year in 3D, launched its own dedicated 3D channel on 1 October, to coincide with the big Ryder Cup tee-off.

Sport is one of Sky's strongest marketing cards - and it has road-tested its 3D coverage of Premier League football in select pub events on a number of occasions over the past year. But movies will be a big driver too - after all, the whole 3D media phenomenon derived its initial momentum from the unprecedented success (it's now the highest-grossing movie of all time) of James Cameron's Avatar.

So the potential interest is clearly there. So, unfortunately, are a number of hurdles. Sky's marketing efforts have made much of the fact that if you're an HD subscriber, the new channel is available at no extra cost. True enough. But if you've bought a 3D set that uses an active filter system, you'll have to fork out £100 per pair for the special battery-powered glasses.

And, yes, the glasses you need for the passive filter system cost only £2 a pop - but for some potential viewers, it will be the hassle rather than the price that will be the issue.

Absolutely, Rupert Britton, PHD's content director, agrees: "It's true that the 3D TV launches have generated mixed opinions, particularly about the whole glasses issue, in the national press - but a lot of it seems to be regurgitating old prejudices. Your views tend to change when you actually see what it offers. Generally, I think we'll see the costs coming down - and I think that 3D will become the default mode on all new TVs. That doesn't mean that all TV will be 3D TV - but 3D viewing could be a special event like having a DVD and turning down the lights to watch it."

On the other hand, Nigel Walley, the managing director of Decipher, points out that there are just too many unanswered questions about the viability of this sector. He says: "The big issue that I can see is whether an advertiser can buy sufficient inventory of a useful sort to make a 3D ad worth making."

For Dave Roberts, the head of entertainment at M&C Saatchi Sport & Entertainment, the big question is whether 3D lends itself to a wide spectrum of day-to-day programming - or whether it will always be about premium one-off events and movies constructed around breathtaking but ultimately gimmicky 3D effects. He also acknowledges the importance of production economics, stating: "From an advertiser point of view, interest will have been stimulated by the big cinematic releases - and they will be watching with interest to see if the novelty will wear off. It's also a factor that, from a production point of view, it costs roughly 50 per cent more to produce a live action 3D ad. And then you have the problem that what is designed to look good in 3D doesn't really work in 2D."

Steve Platt, the Aegis Media trading director, agrees that numbers are central here - but he thinks the longer-term prospects look bright. He says: "At this stage, there aren't many 3D sets out there. And people have only just got their HD sets so it's likely that it will be a while before they contemplate 3D. So, from a trading perspective, it's not likely to be a part of conversations in the near future. But people say 3D delivers a totally different TV experience - and there's a curiosity among viewers and advertisers about the technology and its potential."

YES - Rupert Britton, content director, PHD

"3D will be about event-led TV. You won't need the glasses every time - because the set will still be an HD TV. So, from an advertising point of view, it will become more of a cinematic experience, with people really engaged with the content."

MAYBE - Nigel Walley, MD, Decipher

"In the short term, though it will have limited distribution, there is going to be PR value in launching 3D ads. But in the long run, an advertiser will want to know it can achieve sufficient reach with an ad."

MAYBE - Dave Roberts, head of entertainment, M&C Saatchi Sport & Entertainment

"I think where 3D maybe gets interesting could be in less traditional areas, rather than just pushing out spots. For instance, by using the red button to deliver a 3D game that lives off the back of a piece of content."

YES - Steve Platt, trading director, Aegis Media

"It's a fantastic technology and it will undoubtedly grow. Look at how well HD has done - and that doesn't involve a huge leap forward in viewing quality. So I believe it's going to happen - even if it's not yet much of an issue for advertisers."

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