ESPN Swings Back In PR One-Upmanship, Announces 3D TV Baseball Event For July
The self-touted "Worldwide Leader in Sports" seems determined to hold that title when it comes to 3D. A "battle of the press releases" appears to have broken out, and may not stop until the future arrives.
Just a day after MSG staked ground as the pacesetter for 3D TV sportscasts -- and 93 hours after Comcast laid claim -- ESPN struck back Friday. The network announced it has a baseball exhibition coming ... in July.
The ESPN 3D network, which is launching in three months, will carry Major League Baseball's annual mid-summer home run contest -- set as its first telecast of a U.S.-based event.
This week, MSG network becomes the first to stream a 3D TV sports broadcast in the home, with an NHL game served on Cablevision in the New York area. Comcast will show the Masters in the third dimension starting April 7.
Last Thursday, MSG offered a press release noting its plans for a March 24 Rangers-Islanders game. (A New York Times item mentioned it the day before.) That followed a joint announcement by Comcast and the hosts of the Masters golf tournament on Monday asserting a first-mover advantage.
At MSG, it may have been more a function of circumstances than aggressiveness, but MSG Media president Michael Bair said last week: "We did want to be first."
The Home Run Derby on ESPN3D this summer should feature some of baseball's most charismatic players. "It's fitting that we launch ESPN 3D's domestic programming from Angel Stadium of Anaheim, which was the site for the launch of ESPN HD back on March 30, 2003," stated executive Bryan Burns.
What's curious about the inside baseball PR game of tech leadership is that 3D viewership is likely to be minuscule for some time. The 3D sets needed to watch the events have been on the market only a few weeks, and are pricey.
Panasonic and Samsung models are available, while Sony versions are coming later in the spring. Costs can exceed $3,000. In addition to a 3D TV, a viewer needs an HD-enabled set-top box and 3D glasses to watch.
Still, programmers are engaging in a type of future-proofing, eager to iron out the kinks before consumer demand catches up -- the same applied to HD broadcasts.
And perhaps the press release storm might stimulate demand. A Home Run Derby might not send someone to Best Buy, but a Super Bowl has been known to spark use of a credit card. ESPN 3D has the college football national championship game in January, which might produce a run on the sets in Alabama.
Barclays Capital suggests 3D will be a boon to theater operators -- thanks to "Avatar" -- but wide adoption in the home may be years away. In a new report, the Wall Street firm writes: "We continue to believe uptake will be slower given high consumer cost of hardware upgrade and a near-term dearth of 3D TV content."
Another problem: "the quality level of the 3D content relative to 2D remains questionable at this time." (How programmers might disagree! Including Discovery Channel, with its expected 3DNet coming.)
The Barclays report also argued that a roadblock to consumer acceptance is "a format war." Not among the TV marketers necessarily, but the companies selling the glasses, which can come in a variety of forms.
Programmers face significant investment to stream in 3D, and Barclays suggests they may cut corners at first. A 3D-cast needs a run of new equipment and production talent.
"We would expect that the initial sports events broadcast in 3D would have limited flexibility in camera angles and overall production value," the report says. "The networks would want to be judicious in investing capital into 3D options until it was clear the audience was there and likely to grow."
Is Barclays getting the press releases?