Bryan Burns, Vice President of sports network ESPN, recently spoke at the Creating a New 3D Experience Conference during MIPCOM, to comment on the state of 3D sport broadcasting.
Disney owned ESPN launched ESPN 3D in June 2010 with the opening of the 2010 FIFA World Cup, increasing its coverage to 24 hours a day in February this year.
It has also launched its channel in Australia, has experimented with digital cinema broadcasts in Brazil and shares its X-Games 3D coverage with SKY 3D in the UK.
ESPN 3D has experienced negative press recently with a New York Post blogger claiming there were internal discussions to close the channel down in year two saying, "The next big thing in TV — 3-D — is proving such a bomb with consumers, the first victim may be ESPN's sports-in-3-D channel,".
Further to that, AT&T recently dropped the channel from its U-verse service citing “low demand and high costs” as the reason. However, during the MIPCOM conference, Bryan Burns reacted saying there was no validity in the New York Post article and that the company is very much committed to ESPN 3D, having recently signed an eight-year, $15.2 billion deal, with the National Football League that will allow it to shoot Monday Night Football Games in 3D, starting in 2014.
On October 10th, US cable operator Bright House Networks started offering its 2.4 million customers ESPN’s 3D service. Bright House joins DIRECTV, Time Warner Cable, Comcast and Verizon as US operators offering the channel.
To improve coverage, ESPN 3D are now using CAMERON | PACE Group stereoscopic equipment for many of its live broadcasts such as the Summer X Games (which used 19 camera systems) and the NBA Finals.
3D Focus briefly caught up with ESPN Vice President Bryan Burns to ask about ESPN 3D and what challenges his company is facing…
3D Focus: What did you gain from MIPCOM? What were your overall impressions?
Bryan Burns: I have a much better appreciation for what is going around the world in 3DTV. It’s easy to get so locked in to what we are doing every day that it was insightful to meet with my contemporaries from outside the United States.
3D Focus: AT&T dropped ESPN 3D due to low demand and high costs according to them. What are you doing to address these concerns?
Bryan Burns: We don’t comment on individual distributor negotiations.
3D Focus: What sports do you think work better in 3D compared to others?
Bryan Burns: While we aren’t inclined to pick one sport over another, we find that the venue is quite important in coverage quality. As such, when we produce the X Games, we own that event so we can plan our venues and place cameras in advantageous positions. We do not always have that luxury when we go to existing stadia.
We’re always looking for ways to get better and be more efficient. We get better with newer technology; we get better by our people gaining experience after producing over 160 live telecasts.
Demonstration at retail is critically important, and a place where there is much room for improvement.
3D Focus: ESPN have just signed a huge deal with the National Football League, starting in 2014. Can you confirm this will be shot in 3D for ESPN 3D?
Bryan Burns: The deal we did is an extension of our current agreement, which concludes in 2013. We will determine between now and 2014 how we proceed with the various rights that are granted in the new arrangement.
3D Focus: Are you almost at a stage where you are shooting 3D on a 2D budget?
Bryan Burns: No
3D Focus: The Wimbledon Tennis Championships will be broadcast in 3D for at least the next three years. Will ESPN commit to broadcasting the 3D coverage?
Bryan Burns: Our programming department will be discussing 3D with our associates at the All England Club. We just made a new arrangement for Wimbledon carriage and we look forward to those discussions.
3D Focus: What has audience reaction been so far? Do people find the glasses/3D aspect a distraction? Have there been changes you have made according to focus groups/audience feedback?
Bryan Burns: We find that once people put on the glasses, it is a non-issue. Viewers love ESPN 3D.
3D Focus: Do you feel a huge responsibility to prove 3D sports can work?
Bryan Burns: We love to go first when technology better allow us to serve sports fans. Pure and simple, we live to serve sports fans. It’s what we do. When we announced we were going to high definition, many said we were being foolish. Nearly 70 per cent of US TV households now have at least one HD set, we have over 50 million subscribers to our base HD services, and the percentage of our viewing audience coming from HD has jumped 52% in the last year and doubled in the last two years. This is familiar territory for us.
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