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ESPN, Discovery launching 3D television networks

January 5, 2010 | Chris Payatagool

3d_television.jpgBy Georg Szalai and James Hibberd

ESPN and Discovery Communications announced plans Tuesday to launch the industry's first 3D television networks.

The sports programmer will introduce a 3D network this summer, while Discovery is joining forces with Sony and Imax for a 3D network to launch in 2011.

The announcements represent a potentially game-changing addition to the TV landscape, which only recently fully embraced another technological shift to high-definition programming.

The Walt Disney-owned unit said Tuesday that its new channel -- ESPN 3D -- will feature at least 85 live sporting events during its first year, beginning June 11 with the first 2010 FIFA World Cup match South Africa vs. Mexico.

"ESPN's commitment to 3D is a win for fans and our business partners," said ESPN and ABC Sports president George Bodenheimer. "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."

On the Discovery front, the joint venture of the three firms doesn't have an official name for the network yet, although it has created a logo that says "3D TV."    

The dueling announcements have both companies claiming to have the first 3D network. ESPN has an earlier launch date, but the network will go dark when not airing 3D programming. Discovery says its channel will be the first dedicated 3D network on the air 24/7.

"Discovery's business strategy has always focused on delivering groundbreaking content through new platforms, including the first suite of digital channels launched in 1996 and the first 24/7 basic cable HD channel in 2002," said Discovery Founder and Chairman John Hendricks. "Now, as Discovery celebrates its 25th anniversary in 2010 as the world leader in satisfying curiosity and bringing audiences the most realistic viewing experience, we continue to change the face of television with the launch of the first-ever 24/7 dedicated 3D television network."

ESPN has been testing ESPN 3D for more than two years. For example, it showed a USC-Ohio State college football game in select theaters and on USC's campus. Other 3D events will include up to 25 World Cup matches, the 2011 BCS National Championship Game, college basketball and football, and the Summer X Games.

To watch the content, viewers must have a 3D-ready TV set, and might need a new set-top box. And yes, viewers also must wear 3D glasses.

Plus, the added cost of producing content in 3D will likely get passed onto the consumer, resulting in another cable pay tier similar to current high-definition packages.

That ESPN would be one of the first networks to announce a 3D channel is no surprise. Sports was a key driver in viewers embracing HD, while ESPN constantly explores new technological advances to enhance its content. ESPN is also the most widely distributed cable network.

"This is a turning point for 3D," Consumer Electronics Association CEO Gary Shapiro told USA Today.

The recent box office success of "Avatar," which recently passed $1 billion worldwide and is set to become the #2 movie of all time behind director James Cameron's own "Titanic," has helped prove the 3D format can draw a stunning number of viewers.

The Live Feed's semi-annual live blogging coverage of the Television Critics Association press tour in Pasadena begins Saturday with CBS and The CW and continues Sunday with NBC.

[via The Live Feed]

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