The 3D network began broadcasting in 2010. And unlike many of the headache-inducing 3D movies still clogging theaters, a lot of what was shown on the channel was actually shot using 3D cameras, as opposed to being post-processed afterward.
ESPN says the problem is that no one was really interested, but I think it goes deeper than mere failure for consumers to flock to 3D TVs.
Here are three reasons I believe the channel never got off the ground:
1. Limitations of 3D TV
Even a great 3D TV has limits that other TVs don’t. The effect is really only fully appreciated from a relatively small range of viewing angles, and it requires glasses. Thus, 3D TV is not exactly conducive to having a bunch of friends over for the afternoon to watch a soccer game. The size and arrangement of your group is determined by the viewing angle of your TV and the number of glasses available.
Even people who have 3D TVs likely aren’t using them to watch popular sporting events. After all, who wants to be the one that tells a friend she can come over to watch the game, but it will be a blurry mess because your neighbor Steve is using the last pair of 3D specs?
2. Lack of quality content
Sure, ESPN 3D has shown some major sporting events live — the BCS Bowl, the FIFA World Cup, and the Masters — but it also has a lot of stuff that is out-of-date to pad those big-ticket shows. For example, today it’s showing a Little League Baseball qualifying game, which is interesting but not going to bring in huge ratings. And that broadcast is padded with highlight shows from the most recent Winter X Games, which look cool on camera but happened many months ago.
Right now, the channel is showing a 2012 boxing match from the floor of the Consumer Electronic Show, where ESPN 3D attempted to make a big push to the media and consumers.
3. Lack of advertising money
Shooting, editing, and broadcasting in 3D costs ESPN money on top of the investment in makes on its regular HD broadcasts. Some cable operators charge an additional fee to subscribers who want to watch ESPN 3D, but you’re not going to get people lining up to pay extra for a channel that requires a certain type of TV and whose marquee content can be seen for no additional charge elsewhere.
And so ESPN 3D must also rely on advertising, but it’s hard to convince advertisers to fork over cash to run ads on a channel with such low viewership. Additionally, if the advertiser simply runs a 2D ad during breaks in a 3D broadcast, it can look out of place and flat. Some advertisers have created 3D ads specifically for the channel, but that’s an additional investment with little return in terms of viewers.
All this being said, a rep for the network tells The Verge that if consumers decide to start loving 3D “we will be ready to provide the service to fans if or when 3D does take off.”