A king of the show biz world has spoken and he thinks the 3D TV format could use more scripted dramas. Yes, it’s pretty cool to have the snowboard SuperPipe at the Winter X Games or Bubba Watson’s genius at the Masters shown via 3D, but that’s expensive. Why not dial it back and go for some “Grey’s Anatomy” or “NCIS”?
“It’s really the low-hanging fruit, we’ve missed,” said James Cameron, the director extraordinaire, who’s invested in 3D 2X. “We’ve gone around the lowest fruit to stuff that’s much harder to shoot.”
Earlier this year, the Winter X Games on ESPN used about 35 cameras. A drama, though, might take only three, Cameron said, with no pricey and complicated visual effects.
“I think that should be the place we’re looking for the most rapid growth,” he said at an appearance at the National Association of Broadcasters Show.
One school of thought has sports, movies and nature-oriented programming as the expected pacesetters in 3D TV content. But if Cameron is on target with his scripted drama optimisim, that may open up more possibilities for DirecTV’s 24/7 3D network and 3net, which is partly owned by Discovery, that ran drama “Scary Tales” last fall.
Still, that’s predicated on what so far has been quizzically slow in some precincts: low consumer interest in 3D TV. So, if viewers are so-so on the X Games and other premium stuff on ESPN 3D and the Masters on CBS, is a drama going to grab them?
Cameron, for his part, continues to ignore “the doubts, the naysayers, the scoffers” and on Monday promised programmers there is a path to profitability with 3D TV. His involvement in 3D is two-fold. He's of course the director of films such as “Avatar,” but also the co-founder of a company that provides many 3D TV producers with the soup-to-nuts tools they need.
He suggested that the industry has had one giant step come unexpectedly easy: manufacturers offering so many sets with 3D capabilities. “We imagined it might be hard to get to that,” he said.
So, the hardware is in homes, but the software continues to eke out slowly, which he said has “created that chicken and egg challenge we had in the movie business.”
Manufacturers might be reticient to make 3D more palatable -- such as sets that don't require glasses -- if the programming isn’t compelling, while programmers might be reticent to invest if the experience is not well-received.
“It’ll be the larger flow of content that encourages (manufacturers) to (move) to the next big milestone, which is a glasses-less display,” Cameron said. (There are some efforts to do it so far.)
Cameron and his 3D company, Cameron Pace, have been working to bring down the 3D production costs through a 5D concept. There, the 3D and 2D feeds are shot and produced with much of the same equipment, infrastructure and manpower. ESPN went 5D at the X Games with its 35 cameras.
“If every single 3D camera has got to have a 3D technician standing by it somewhere in the chain, you’re dead,” Cameron said. “You can’t do it.”
The latest innovation from Cameron Pace is a mobile, handheld camera that has a 2D camera, with a 3D one mounted on top, which allows one shot to yield the two feeds. So in a sense, Cameron seemed to be suggesting camera operators and producers become skilled in both 2D and 3D as a TV journalist might be able to film and report single-handedly.
“The more we try to make 3D different, mysterious and special, the more we do ourselves a disservice,” he said.
Cameron is an artist, though he’s done well in commerce, but even if 3D production costs go down, networks will still need some consumer appetite change to make 3D a big financial winner. Advertisers would have to embrace it as they have HD. Or, cable/telco/satellite operators might have to determine 3D networks offered for free are generating more paying subscribers -- or will have to make money with an a la carte or pay-per-view model.
Nonetheless, Cameron is amped. A Winter X Games clip played and he said, “Yea, baby.”