With 3D TV sales for the year falling short of expectations, the consumer electronics industry has already begun playing the blame game. Analysts typically cite the high prices and viewers’ reluctance to wear 3D glasses as major obstacles to consumer acceptance. Meanwhile, 3D hardware manufacturer Panasonic claims that Hollywood is primarily at fault for not making enough good 3D movies that people want to buy or watch on 3D TVs. This seems awfully hypocritical coming from the company that has locked up the 3D format’s most hotly-desired title as a bundle package exclusive that effectively keeps it out of the hands of the majority of interested consumers.
Make no mistake, the high prices and glasses issue are at least somewhat deterrents to mainstream acceptance, but neither is really a dealbreaker, in my opinion. Honestly, the price disparity between 2D and 3D televisions has been largely overblown by the media. 3D sets are not that much more expensive for what is otherwise being offered in the product. You can buy a new Vizio passive 3D model right now for only $500. Prices will continue to sort themselves out in short order, to the point where 3D is merely another feature in a typical television (like frame interpolation or internet apps), not treated like a whole new format in itself. And as much as some people put up a fuss about not wanting to wear glasses to watch TV, the lighter, more comfortable and less expensive glasses used with passive 3D will likely overcome a lot of that resistance, as the passive technology takes a greater presence in the market.
I believe that the greatest obstacle that 3D TV faces is the lack of compelling content that will capture consumers’ interest. To that end, comments made by Panasonic marketing director Andrew Denham aren’t too far off the mark. At this year’s Consumer Electronics Show, Denham said: “Hollywood damaged 3-D by rushing so many badly converted films out in Avatar’s wake. What we need now is the next level, the next Avatar. And that’s a big ask, I think.”
What Denham conveniently fails to acknowledge, of course, is that Panasonic itself will continue to hold the 3D edition of ‘Avatar’ hostage in an exclusive bundle package until at least 2012. While I may not be much of a fan of ‘Avatar’, I certainly recognize the title’s importance to the 3D movement. ‘Avatar’ is the movie that brought 3D back to the public’s consciousness. It’s an enormously popular movie that people want to watch in 3D. For many consumers, ‘Avatar’ is the proverbial “killer app” that will convince them to buy into 3D TV. Yet the title is unavailable except to owners of Panasonic’s own 3D hardware (or those willing to pay exorbitant prices on eBay).
Benham’s comments mirror those made not too long ago by Jeffrey Katzenberg, head of DreamWorks Animation, who said: “We have disappointed our audience multiple times now, and because of that I think there is genuine distrust – whereas a year and a half ago, there was genuine excitement, enthusiasm and reward for the first group of 3-D films that actually delivered a quality experience.” Yet DreamWorks’ own 3D animated titles are likewise locked up in an exclusivity deal with Samsung.
These companies can’t have it both ways – complaining that consumers aren’t being given enough 3D content to buy, while at the same time deliberately withholding some of that desirable content for themselves. The argument is disingenuous at best. These exclusivity deals are doing far more harm than good and need to end now.