Pro video blog…Produced by Philip Johnston DoP/Editor

From an article in Broadcast Engineering …The decision by French pay TV operator Canal Plus to axe its 3-D channel after 18 months of operation is a significant setback for the technology in Europe, following low consumer take up. The channel attracted just 20,000 subscribers despite considerable marketing from Canal Plus since its launch in June 2010, leading the company to decide the technology was not ready. Canal Plus managing director René Saal said that for now development and marketing would be refocused back on 3-D, although he did not rule out restarting its 3-D channel in a few years’ time.

The move reflects growing loss of momentum for 3-D in Europe, caused by a combination of lukewarm consumer response and lack of available content. The first signs of this were apparent early in 2011 if not before, with the publication by analyst group Ovum of a report called The State of 3-D (Strategic Focus) identifying a lack of enthusiasm among broadcasters as 53 percent of survey respondents regarded it as low priority. As a result, 3-D content was being produced at a much lower rate than had been hoped or expected a year or two earlier. The report noted that a number of European operators had launched 3-D channels, including BSkyB as well as CanalPlus, but had been hampered by the high cost of 3-D production, particularly for live content. This in turn had deterred some operators from coming in with dedicated 3-D channels at all, but meant more generally that the appeal of 3-D was limited by the poor choice of content, mostly confined to a scattering of sports events and a few movies.

Even in the UK, which has been leading Europe’s push for 3-D, enthusiasm tapered off towards the end of 2011 following another report by Informa Telecoms & Media, which indicated that 3-D will still have failed to break out of its niche and become part of mainstream viewing by 2016. The report acknowledged that 3-D had got off to a flying start in the UK following a strong push from the country’s leading pay TV operator, satellite provider BSkyB, which has been providing its 3-D content free to its 3.7 million premium HD customers, almost 40 percent of its 10 million customer base. BSkyB has been pushing 3-D as the next big thing, and rival Virgin Media, the UK’s dominant cable TV operator with 4 million subscribers, has also been plugging 3-D hard, offering 3-D movies to customers with a capable TV set. Furthermore, 3-D has also enjoyed strong support from the BBC, which kicked off by broadcasting the men’s and women’s finals of the 2011 Wimbledon tennis championships in the format.

But, reality intruded on the hype increasingly in the second half of 2011, as Internet connectivity overtook 3-D in the league of development and marketing priorities. Virgin Media realized it was gaining far more customers as a result of its Tivo box connecting TVs to web content than from 3-D, with the Informa survey predicting that, while, by 2016, one-third of UK households, or about 8 million, will have 3-D TV sets, only 42 percent of these will consume 3-D content regularly.

Part of the reason for the slower-than-expected take up of 3-D is realization that the technology has some way to go to make 3-D viewing compelling for a broad range of content. Goggle-less viewing will be essential for 3-D to become mainstream, and it has still to be proven that TV sets can provide this successfully across a wide field of view. Symptoms such as headaches, dizziness and other symptoms caused quite commonly by 3-D viewing also need to be tackled by reducing the visual processing load on the brain imposed by current technology.

So far, the decline in 3-D interest in Europe appears not to have been reflected elsewhere, with major U.S. networks such as ESPN, Discovery, and DirecTV maintaining their efforts. ESPN, for example, hopes that 3-D will recoup some of the $15.2 billion it spent on rights over the next eight years to the National Football league, planning to shoot these in full 1080p HD resolution in 3-D after 2014.

Meanwhile, Consumer Electronics (CE) vendors are desperately trying to maintain 3-D momentum by investing in 3-D content production if the broadcasters will not do it. The 2012 London Olympics will provide a major test of this strategy, with several TV makers including Panasonic sponsoring 3-D TV production at the games.

In reality, though, CE makers, as well as pay TV operators and broadcasters, are having to lengthen their sights and view 3-D as more of a slow burner that will generate revenues and interest, but over a longer term than had been anticipated, with more work needed. It is likely that further improvements in HD, perhaps Ultra HD, will gain greater traction first.

Despite a growing number of professional 3D camcorders like the Sony PMW-TD300 the general public are not as interested in 3D as the people who make the products like Sony, Panasonic and JVC.

People are happy with HD pictures and a larger swing of the general public are swapping over to HD Ready LED/plasma TVs choosing Sky HD, Blu ray and other devices like the Apple TV that can now stream HD pictures giving a wide selection of HD media to choose from.




Having been working in the video business since 1988 I have amassed a great amount of knowledge of both the kit and production values over the last 30 years.

One thought on “French Canal Plus drops 3D channel after 18 months !

  1. I think part of the problem is that for the majority of consumers, especially in tighter economic times, will only replace equipment when it fails. I suspect the takeup of 3D has currently been driven by the early adopters who are willing and able to invest in the hardware and that market is now saturated.

    HD has been around for a while but is only starting to really become solid. Myself ironically I now have the HD camera but the rest of the kit is still high end SD kit including a 28 inch flat CRT. Technically out of date but still doing a very fine job that doesn’t justify the high cost of replacing the screen, the DVD player, the DVR and the AV amp and then throw perfectly functioning but largely unsellable kit away. Sure if something fails then an upgrade will happen but it’s not going to until then. Asking someone who has done that upgrade to HD/BlueRay to then replace most of it again is a hard ask.

    The benefits of HD once you see it are obvious and as more folks replace failing kit and see HD for themselves at friends and relatives the momentum increases. The benefits of 3D are more moot, great for the cinema film experience but elsewhere? And how many times is the average family going to see it in action beyond a quick play in the local Dixons?

    Even with the early adopters the market is in the sell on of 3D Cinema titles or 3D console games, these are exactly the folks that are willing to invest the money in kit, spend the time to set up and sit down to watch a film. That market isn’t a broadcast market, they want to watch the film where they have time to sit down for 2 hours, to pause it when they need to. That’s a personal media/rental/vod market. What use would such a consumer have for a broadcast channel?

    Now catch up TV services delivered over the internet, that’s a much more viable market. It only needs an upgrade to the DVR or an additional unit, the investment may well be subsidised like the Virgin Tivo and the convenience suits busy consumers who don’t want to be told when they can watch content they’ve paid for. I’d personally love a Tivo, I just (for entirely non technical reasons it has to be said) won’t do business with Virgin and it’s frustrating this technology is locked to their service in the UK.

    Right now I wouldn’t want to be a broadcaster. For many consumers they are becoming not the gateway to content but the barrier, but that’s a different matter.

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