Those NFL fans with the goofy hats and face paint are going to be emerging — literally — on screens on December 4th in the first ever 3D live broadcast of an NFL game. When the San Diego Chargers and Oakland Raiders face off in an intrastate contest, fans in Boston, Hollywood, and New York will be able to watch 3D coverage in local movie theaters.
The experiment is a result of a collaboration between the NFL, RealD, and 3ality Digital. 3ality Digital is producing the content, using the RealD technology for the presentation, which already is installed in more than 1,500 movie theater screens worldwide. And 3ality Digital is the company that shot the U2 3D concert movie that grossed nearly $20 million in box office sales (one of the top-ranking movies of all time). (And the U2 film might have sold even more if it hadn’t been bumped off some screens by Hannah Montana’s 3D movie.) Live 3D broadcasts of sports in theaters is not new — the NBA has experimented with it already — but this is a first for football.
Now, I’m sure that Hollywood and the movie theater industry see this as a great way to try to get customers back into their seats (and buying those gallon tubs of popcorn) by offering live events in a way not available elsewhere. I can see how that might work in the short term. I can see how football fans might be willing to pay a fraction of the cost of a stadium ticket in order to sit in comfortable chair in a warm, indoor space. But I expect that this will be a short-lived advantage. We’ve proved over and over that if people find something they like in the theaters, they will want it in their living rooms: stereo sound, full-color images, wide format screens, and uninterrupted movies that you can watch whenever you want. Panasonic and Samsung have been selling rear-projection HDTVs with 3D support for years, so the technology is readily available. Once the demand reaches a critical mass, I expect that we’ll see 3D broadcasts of sporting events being piped into the home, either over cable or the Internet. And once the economy gets back on track, it could be sooner than you think.