Five Rings in 3D

Yup, sales of 3DTVs have been lower than what some people have predicted, or that what manufacturers had hoped for. The reason is not the goofy glasses or the high prices. You now pay little more to get 3D support in a television, and people are just fine with wearing the glasses in the local cinemas. The problem is simple; there’s not a compelling library of 3D content available. But that’s changing rapidly.

Consider “Smart TVs” for a moment. For the most part, that means that your HDTV can connect to the Internet without using a separate computer or other black box, so that you can stream movies and past episodes of TV shows on Netflix. Yes, these televisions can also get sports scores and stock prices and weather forecasts, but the compelling application is the entertainment content from Netflix (and perhaps a few other sources such as YouTube, Hulu Plus, and Amazon on Demand). Once the content became available at a reasonable cost (all you can eat for less than $10 a month), the demand for the feature took off.

The 20 or 30 movies that Hollywood releases in 3D just isn’t enough to sustain consumer interest. Even if you wanted to watch everyone of these movies, you’d run out of content even if you rationed yourself to one a week. Clearly not enough content.

But here comes some compelling content, at least for some viewers. Panasonic has announced that it will be partnering with NBC to bring 3D coverage of the London 2012 Summer Olympics to U.S. television audiences. The 3D broadcasts will be shown on a next-day delay, including both the opening and closing ceremonies. The Olympic Broadcasting Services is planning to produce more than 200 hours of 3D programming, covering a wide range of sports including swimming, diving, and gymnastics. The content will be made available to cable, satellite, and telco subscription TV services across the country.

I’ll freely admit that 200 hours of programming is not much in a market where the average viewer watches more than 150 hours a month, but it’s a good start. And when the content being shown is programming that is in high demand by a large number of consumers — such as the Olympics — I expect that we’ll find more people expressing interest in getting a 3DTV. Sports have always been a driving force for adopting new television technology, and when the SuperBowl is finally broadcast live in 3D, I expect that we’ll stop hearing stories about what a flop 3DTV has been.