Sky 3D Head Discusses Strategy at MIPTV 2011

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During yesterday's Spotlight on 3D talks at MIPTV 2011, Head of Sky 3D John Cassy was questioned about the Sky 3D strategy, tips on how to get your 3D programme onto Sky 3D and what the channel will be doing every month of the Nintendo 3DS. He also gave an interesting story about the Royal Wedding! 

review dividing line Sky 3D Head Discusses Strategy at MIPTV 2011

The following are the highlights of a transcript from yesterday's presentation and just focusses on Sky 3D. A full video which includes comments from Discovery 3NET Head of Aquisitions Mark Ringwald and Head of 3D Project at Orange will be coming soon to 3D Focus TV. Be sure to subscribe to the 3D Focus TV YouTube channel here so you can be alerted when that video and many other videos that cover 3D news from MIPTV 2011 are uploaded.

The following transcript highlights are from a forum moderated by TBI Editor Stewart Clarke.

thin dividing line Sky 3D Head Discusses Strategy at MIPTV 2011

Stewart Clarke: What is Sky 3D?

John Cassy: Sky 3D is a channel which launched back in October and seeks to take the best of pay TV and present it to our customers in 3D to allow them to watch in a way that they have never seen before.

In October 2010 we started with the coverage of the Ryder cup which was a live outside broadcast which went through four days of the tournament because of the weather. On Sky 3D the largest single genre is sport including Premier League soccer. I think we show 9 different sports from 9 different countries so far. We also show Hollywood movies, entertainment programmes, arts programmes and live performances. To give you an example, last month we broadcast our 100th live sports event and the world’s first live 3D opera. Tomorrow we will film a ballet and we recorded with Peter Gabriel about 10 days ago so we are doing a range of what we think are pretty exciting things for our customers. If you want to take the channel you have to be a Sky customer and you need to be on our top tier package taking sports and movies from us. You then get it as a free add on to reward your loyalty.

Stewart Clarke: Is there any sense of how many people are watching Sky 3D?

John Cassy: We launched in October. By December 31st 140,000 TV sets had been sold in the UK. It is a market in a very early stage of development and we said by the end of January we were approaching 70,000 homes – about half of the UK market.

Interestingly, when we first launched HD about 4-5 years we came down to MIPTV. The experience we are having with 3D new is quite similar to what we had then where there was a limited amount of HD programming available and there were a lot of people very enthusiastic about getting into the space with questions about the technology and questions about filming technique. I think nobody knew how big HD would be at that time. What we have now, four and a bit years on, is 3 million customers paying us £10 per month to watch 50 channels and I think that is way more than we expected to get to at that time.

Will 3D do that? I don’t know but what I think is good is there are very clear similarities in that the thing that has driven progress and innovation in TV has been better picture quality throughout and improved sound. 3D can deliver on those things just in the way that silent movies when they went to sound did, black and white to colour, colour to analogue, analogue to digital, digital to HD and now 3D. How big 3D is going to be? I honestly can’t tell you and I don’t think any of us can but at Sky 3D we are committed to it, we are excited by it and we are in it for the long term.

Stewart Clarke:  Do you buy into the notion that there is a profile of early 3D adopters or is it perhaps more to do with the content you provide?

John Cassy: I think it is up to us as much as anything to define the opportunity. If you look at most new technologies there tends to be a subset of people who are gadget freaks and will be the first to get it whatever it is. But we are making sure we put out family programming. If we were just broadcast football the chances are we would get a majority male audience but the reason we are filming a version of Swan Lake in 3D tomorrow night is because we want to show there is broader 3D content available as we are looking for a full family audience.

Stewart Clarke:  Tell me about your direct approach in terms of getting your message out there.

We believe that the point that a potential customer sees 3D for the first time is absolutely vital. 3D is one of those things were seeing is believing and if you can somehow influence how people see 3D for the first time and that they are seeing quality programming is the key. If you show someone a bad 3D programme it doesn’t matter if it is 3D, or HD or whatever D it is, there not stupid; they are going to watch something else.

There is quite a lot of not great 3D out there so one of the reasons we have been pro active in showing people the product is to ensure there is content in the marketplace that we really want people to see. Research shows that when people see it there reaction is off the chart positive.

Stewart Clarke:  Is this about Sky 3D owning the 3D space in the UK or do you want other people to come to the party? Do you want other 3D services and 3D channels to launch?

John Cassy:  We would like to grow an industry in the UK. We are very proud of the UK production sector. We work closely with lots of people in the UK but also internationally. We believe it is a great opportunity to go out and grow an industry. We are prepared to invest and back production companies and to work with manufacturers to develop technology so really, the more the merrier.

Stewart Clarke:  I am interested to hear about the business model – Is it more about retaining subscribers, providing added value or giving the image of being at the very cutting edge?

John Cassy:  Well to get the Sky 3D channel it is a free add on to our most valuable customers so for us at the moment it is about us rewarding those customers. They choose to pay us a reasonably substantial part of their disposable income and they don’t have to do that. They are one phone call away from cancelling so we need to give them reasons to stay with us. Also, innovation is absolutely in the DNA of Sky. We have always been at the heart of big technological innovation and it is one of the reasons people are attracted to us as a business so 3D is important for us at that level.

Stewart Clarke:  Will there be a point where Sky 3D will be a service you pay for in itself?

John Cassy:  No – at the moment we have no plans to introduce a charge.

Stewart Clarke:  There is a vibrant production community in the UK – is there a sense that, as of today, there is enough UK and international 3D programming for your needs?

John Cassy:  There is more and more coming out but we would like more and more. It is one of the reasons why we are here at MIPTV; to talk to people at the cutting edge and making this kind of programming. On the session after us there are two quite contrasting but very good British producers who have done some really great 3D shows. There is one company called Electric Sky who have done some stuff for Discovery 3Net. There is another, Atlantic Productions, who have done some really high end stuff for us. Both of them are taking a very entrepreneurial and creative approach to it and are, by all accounts, working to a profit and a business that makes sense to them.

Stewart Clarke:  To what extent is Sky 3D having to help producers and help create this 3D market? I’m thinking of the training initiative you did with Skillset. What were the aims of that?

John Cassy:  We are very clear. What we need to do is provide an incentive for producers to make 3D programmes. Because it does require a lot of new skills, it requires a lot of new production kit, new workflows, new expertise and a lot of those things are thin on the ground so we are trying to give people the resources they need. One of the ways we have tried to do that is through training so we joined Skillset and Bafta in the UK to set up some 3D training programmes which we heavily subsidised to allow independent production companies to attend these courses. They get really top class training to enable them to go out and make some great 3D programmes. For us it is a kind of R&D expense and it enables us to get better 3D programmes.

Stewart Clarke:  How do producers get involved in that? Is there a selection process?

John Cassy:  We have effectively helped with the course and signed a cheque but we have left it for people like Skillset and Bafta to actually craft the course so they would need to approach them to do it.

Stewart Clarke:  Will we start to see 3D drama and scripted programming become the norm on some of these services? Is there a sense that Sky 3D would like to have 3D drama one offs or series?

John Cassy:  Well I think it goes back to my point at the beginning when I said that we are at the start of a journey and I do expect that journey to include some scripted 3D drama. We are looking at one or two projects at the moment which would most likely involve taking dramas which would have been made anyway for our general entertainment channel Sky One and then turning those shows into 3D. It is one step at a time. We have isolated sport and movies as the two genres we need to get sorted first. We have made some pretty big bets with factual programming and I think drama is something we will certainly get to in time.

Stewart Clarke:  So the method of doing so will be effectively to supersize something that has already been commissioned?

John Cassy:  Yea, that’s kind of our main strategy which is what you have got to do is create something which is great for the viewer. They will be the ultimate judge if a show works or not and if you are making a really good show in high definition, then, if there is a way to turn that into 3D we think that is the right route to go forward.  You have already created a brand, you have already cast it, you have already sunk the costs etc. To turn it into 3D is a relatively modest increment compared to starting it from scratch. However, it presents production challenges if you want to turn a HD show into 3D, particularly around scripted drama because the filming rates are different and the editing rates are different but it is all doable so supersizing is something we do believe in.

Stewart Clarke:  Tell me about the royal wedding. It seems to be that there was a sense the timing was not right.

John Cassy:  We did try very hard to get the royal wedding filmed in 3D. We are big believers that we have to get 3D into the national consciousness. We need to be creating 3D programmes that, when people go to work the next day, they ask their colleagues if they watched it, just like they do with something like the X Factor final so we are looking to get shows which really reach the national consciousness. The royal wedding is going to be a huge international TV event and we thought it lent itself perfectly to 3D. We had some pretty long conversations with the palace but for one reason or another it hasn’t happened. We respect that decision so let’s move on.

Stewart Clarke:  Is it true Sky 3D staged a trial royal wedding?

John Cassy:  We did as part of the process to show how it could work. We recreated the wedding of the Sister of one of the producers at Sky News about 3 weeks after they got married. We got them all back together and she got her dress out again. She now probably has the most expensive wedding video in history!

Stewart Clarke:  Did she say it was better in 3D?

John Cassy:  Yes apparently it was just like being there!

Stewart Clarke:  Obviously Sky is very well known for having lots of sports rights and producing sports content. Is there any 3D sports coming up such as the Rugby World Cup?

We are not a rights holder on the Rugby World Cup but there are whispers that it may happen. We are a platform operator that enables channels to broadcast so we would love to see the Rugby World Cup in 3D and further down the line, the Olympics next summer. We would love to see the Olympic Broadcast Authority to really embrace that because it is a great opportunity for the Olympics to capture that for the future and show the true potential of 3D.

Stewart Clarke:  Could one event really drive uptake of Sky 3D?

John Cassy:  Absolutely. When you go back to the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth it was around the time when black and white TV was becoming colour. It wasn’t actually shown on colour TV but it was shown in colour in cinemas and it was a big event. If you are showing huge events which people are interested in a way that they have never seen before then that is a great way to try to persuade people this is the future of entertainment.

Stewart Clarke:  How the glasses still a barrier for 3D uptake?

John Cassy:  Would we like glasses free 3D TV? Yes, but we don’t recognise it as such a huge hurdle at the moment. You need to provide great content to give people a reason to forget about the content.

The first time we broadcast a live sports event from the UK was a soccer match between Arsenal and Manchester United and we broadcast to a select number of pubs in London. We invited a whole load of people along and gave them 3D glasses. For the first minute they made silly faces at each other and pretended they were the Blues Brothers. But then they quickly forgot about it and at half time, they left the glasses on when they went to the bar so they did forget.

Stewart Clarke:  Given that we are at MIPTV, I am sure there are producers in the room and I’m sure there are asking, “what do these guys want in acquiring 3D programming?”. The message earlier was very much that quality is a given but further to that I wonder what is on every one’s shopping list?

John Cassy:  The first rule of 3D for us is to forget about the 3D. We want to know is is it a great story? is it well cast?, are there good characters?, those sort of things. If the answers are yes then it is about considering whether it can be a great 3D programme. At that point you have to do a lot of careful thinking about how you will film it, how you edit it, all those sort of things.

We will either buy programmes direct through our acquisitions team or if there are programmes you think would not naturally fit onto one of Sky’s own channels we would encourage you to go and talk to one of your usual contacts at the likes of Discovery, Nat Geo, History Channel, UKTV about ways that you might be able to persuade them to fund the normal 2D side of the programme and then we will talk to you about how we get that programme under their branding onto Sky 3D.

Stewart Clarke:  How can people find out the technical specifications for delivering to Sky 3D?

John Cassy:  If you are a producer and you are interested in producing some 3D content for Sky 3D we have got a new website which has been launched. The address is and on there you will find a full technical specification, all the kit that we approve and crucially what we don’t approve of. The contacts of the right people to go to in terms of commissioners and how the system works are also on there. That is probably the best place to start

3D Focus: Can you tell me if you are in talks with the BBC about broadcasting some of the Wimbledon 3D coverage on Sky 3D?

John Cassy:  That is up to the bbc but we would love to have that on our cxhannel.

3D Focus: What will Sky 3D be doing for the 3DS?

John Cassy:  I don’t know how many of you guys have seen it but the 3DS is an amazing little glasses free 3D device that is selling in huge numbers. On the day it came out I walked past the Apple Store early in the morning on Regents Street. That was the morning that the ipad 2 came out. I then passed the HMV store which was where the Nintendo 3DS was coming out and there was exactly the same number of people in sleeping bags who slept over night to get these gadgets. I think that was quite a compliment to Nintendo that there was an Apple level of demand.

We are providing a variety of clips to the Nintendo 3DS which will cover sports, movies and general entertainment. We will be doing that on a monthly basis going forward. For us it is a way to show people what is available on Sky 3D and hopefully they will come and try it properly.