With the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) moving into full swing in Las Vegas this week, the timing couldn’t have been better for the announcement of a new joint venture between Discovery Communications, Sony Corporation and IMAX that will result in what’s being called the first 24/7 dedicated 3D television network.
The network, with a planned 2011 launch in the U.S., will be a general entertainment channel, featuring content from genres that are considered ‘most appealing’ in 3D, including natural history, space, exploration, adventure, engineering, science and technology, motion pictures, music and children’s programming from Discovery, Sony Pictures Entertainment, IMAX and other third-party providers. And while there are those who, even in the wake of the monstrous success of James Cameron’s Avatar, think the much-bandied-about 3D revolution is still some years away, chief executives from the three companies see things differently, as they explained to the press via a conference call from Sony’s New York City headquarters.
Discovery founder and chairman John Hendricks referred to the announcement of the venture as making ‘television history,’ saying Discovery, Sony and IMAX ‘are all committed to this proposition that consumers will migrate [to] and seek out ‘closer to reality’ television experiences.’ When asked if consumers will readily gravitate en masse towards a television technology that requires both new hardware (3D-ready television) and accessories (3D glasses), he said the discussion ‘takes me back to 2002,’ when Discovery HD Theater was launched.
‘There are about five million homes out there that we think of as early adopters,’ he elaborated. ‘They’ll go after 3D very quickly, we think, in the next 24 to 36 months just the way they did with HD. Thereafter, there are probably another 20 million affluent homes that really relish having the home theater experience, and we think that marketplace will come up pretty quickly.’ From there, he said, it’s a matter of ‘rolling out into the masses.’
All three companies have signed a non-binding Letter of Intent for the venture, and will serve as equal partners. Discovery will provide network services, including affiliate sales and technical support functions, as well as 3D television rights to its content and cross-promotion across its portfolio of 13 U.S. TV networks. Sony will provide advertising/sponsorship sales support, and will seek to license television rights to current and future 3D feature films, music-related 3D content and game-related 3D content, while providing cross-promotion at retail stores. IMAX also will license TV rights to future 3D films, as well as providing promo through its movie theaters across the U.S., and a suite of proprietary and patented image enhancement and 3D technologies.
‘Sony and IMAX are great companies that are synonymous with 3D,’ said Discovery Communications president and CEO David Zaslav during the conference call. ‘They’ve established libraries of content and a pipeline of upcoming television and theatrical releases that will bring great programming to this 3D channel. Sony and IMAX also have unmatched display and production technologies, and most importantly, are committed, like Discovery Communications, to driving 3D as a new platform.’
‘We’ve got library content, [and] we’re in production on a number of 3D films,’ added IMAX CEO Richard L. Gelfond. ‘We and Sony also have proprietary technology that can convert 2D into 3D and you’ll see some of that shown on the channel, and with the new cameras coming along there will be a lot of things shot in 3D.’
Zaslav said that discussions will begin immediately with distributors and ‘we expect to have very good and positive conversations about the carriage… We see it as a broad channel that would be available to anybody, not a premium channel.’ He said the channel will take up six megahertz of bandwidth, close to the same amount used by HD channels today.
As for who will be running the shop, governance for the JV will be handled by a board of directors comprised of members from each of the three companies, with day-to-day operations run by a separate staff and management team that will report to the board. ‘We’re beginning the search immediately for a world-class CEO to help us launch this network,’ said Zaslav, and while the channel will launch in the U.S., Zaslav said the current plan ‘positions us to take this venture around the world and build on Discovery’s unmatched global footprint.’
With the new models of 3D-ready TVs creating buzz at CES due to roll out this spring and summer and into the fall, ‘This is really the first year of consumer-ready 3D television for the masses,’ said Sony USA executive vice president and chief financial officer Rob Wiesenthal. In a day that virtually amounted to manna from Heaven for 3D buffs, ESPN also announced on Tuesday that it would be establishing a 3D channel in time for the World Cup this June, showing a minimum of 85 live events in its first year.
But yes, you’ll still need the glasses for all of it, at least for the time being. ‘Consumers seem quite willing to put on glasses in theaters and they’re doing it in record numbers,’ said Gelfond. ‘For the right experience, consumers are going to put on glasses, and we all intend to create the right experience.’
Sir Howard Stringer, Chairman, CEO and President for Sony Corporation, echoed the sentiment that all three parties are determined to create a groundbreaking television destination. ‘It’s appropriate that the three of us are in cahoots on this,’ he said in reference to what each party brings to the table for the venture. ‘We belong to each other.’