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ESPN 3D faces an uncertain future

After all the hype, it may be that there was little substance to ESPN’s 3D coverage. In an interview, the company’s own director of technology, Jonathan Pannaman admitted in a press conference in Europe that the sports network has not seen a clear return on investment. Even so, ESPN isn’t quite ready to give up on it.

But halfway through its year trial, shouldn’t there be some indication of whether or not it will succeed? Is there really no way to tell how well its newest flagship feature is doing? Maybe ESPN just isn’t ready to admit defeat. Or maybe the network is just really confused – as Pannaman added, ESPN is “still not sure what makes sense” when it comes to its 3D broadcasting decisions.

With the amount of money and attention ESPN has thrown at 3D, being in “not sure” territory is dangerous.

It’s possible the network is just too ahead of the curve, and not enough people are willing to spend the money on a 3D TV yet. As Pannaman put it, “We’ve also got to get more eyeballs looking at 3D to get some idea of acceptance in the marketplace,” which is difficult to do when so many people are just not buying into the high prices or wearing the goggles, as a recent survey has shown. It’s possible that consumers won’t be convinced the investment in a 3D TV is worth it. At the moment, ESPN only broadcasts certain events in 3D, versus slated programming specifically for the technology, making it a tough call when it comes time to buying a new TV – are select games worth a few hundred dollars?

So far, the answer is no. The same survey also revealed that the Consumer Electronics Association was way off in its estimations of 3D TV success, with a measly 1.1 million making their way into American living rooms this year. In a blog post from last June, the CEA wrote that 25 percent of people it surveyed expected to own a 3D TV in three years.

With half a year to go in its trial, and another planned year of 3D sports coverage after that, there’s still time for a turnaround. ESPN VP of strategic business planning and development Bryan Burns argues that reports of 3D’s failure are extremely premature. Burns claims ESPN’s numbers with 3D are far ahead of where they were when HD first premiered on the market – and that like with HD,  people will take a wait and see approach only to eventually jump on board.

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