ESPN 3D: Too Little, Too Soon?

AT&T made a big public splash last year when it picked up ESPN 3D, the all-3D sports channel. So it’s a little surprising that the company has dropped the channel without ceremony rather than renew the contract. According to AT&T sources, “the price tag was too high.”

Is this a major blow to ESPN or 3DTV in general? I don’t think so. ESPN is clearly investing in 3D technology, and looks to become the leader in live 3D programming simply because it will have a lot more experience than anyone else by the time 3D in the home takes off. The more it can do to get others to help pay for its research, the better, but they appear to be committed to this course and losing AT&T subscribers is not likely to deter them.

The fact is that more and more HDTVs are going to be 3D-capable; it will become increasingly difficult to find a full-featured set that doesn’t include 3D support. So if you want a “transportation special” entry level set, sure, you won’t have 3D. But if you want high refresh rates, online streaming video access, or other advanced features, you’ll probably get 3D in the bargain whether you want it or not. You don’t have to use it–a 3D set shows standard 2D content just fine–but it will be there when you want it.

And I remain convinced that most users will want it. When “American Idol” or the SuperBowl are broadcast in 3D, a large portion of consumers will want to watch in 3D. So I’m not concerned about AT&T deciding not to renew ESPN 3D; they’ll be back.