TORONTO - There will be no 3D broadcasts of the Stanley Cup final this year and the CBC's general manager of technology says he's no longer as confident in broadcasting in three dimensions, due to the "exorbitant" cost and low viewership numbers.
Fred Mattocks still believes in 3D and was pleased how the CBC's first two 3D hockey broadcasts turned out—although he admits they were somewhat buggy and very much live-to-air experiments.
But he says the massive costs to stage those productions and the poor ratings so far—"a small number," is how he described the audience size—makes it untenable for the CBC to go gung ho with 3D.
"At the end of the day right now, I'm not as bullish on 3D as I was a year ago," Mattocks says.
"We're in a mode that I call disciplined experimentation, we can't afford to be all over the place because we'll go broke."
Producing 3D content is about twice as expensive as a standard broadcast, he says, with a need for twice the staff, twice the equipment, twice the bandwidth and then there's the added complexity of the production.
Plus, the pace of 3D adoption has been slow. According to a recent report by the Consumer Electronics Marketers of Canada, nearly 3.47 million TVs were shipped to stores in 2010, of which 3.1 per cent, or almost 107,500, were 3D capable. But it's impossible to know how many of those sets have been sold into homes and how many owners have become 3D enthusiasts.
"When it comes to people actually using 3D that level is very, very low, so until that level starts to grow we can't afford to move massively into 3D production, it just doesn't make any sense," Mattocks says.
"But we'll keep an eye on it, we'll try to help it along, we'll encourage people ... because I do believe 3D is the future, it's a question of when."
Reviews were mixed for the CBC's first attempt at hockey in 3D, a tilt last December between the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Montreal Canadiens. Another game, the outdoor Heritage Classic pitting the Calgary Flames against the Canadiens, was aired in 3D a couple of months later.
There were some technical bugs but a lot of the challenge is in the "creative shift" of working with a new medium, Mattocks says.
"The addition of the third dimension changes the creative equation and in television nobody has all the answers. The entire industry, even in the movies, is still trying to figure it out—what you can do and what you can't do, or put another way, what you should do and what you shouldn't do," he says.
And while a film set is tightly controlled, the challenges that TV producers face in shooting a live event is further complicated with 3D.
"How do you deal with people popping up in front of the camera—that creates a real issue for the viewer in 3D because all of a sudden your depth and focus becomes jarred," Mattocks says.
While a momentarily glitch in a 2D broadcast is quickly forgotten, a bad mistake in 3D can literally hurt.
"3D gives us the ability to make our audience sick and you never want to make your audience sick," he says.
The biggest problem with 3D adoption, Mattocks believes, is the need to wear glasses while viewing.
"The industry's a smart industry and it's reacting to that," he says.
"Glasses interfere with the experience, it's just that simple. ... My own view is until the glasses problem is solved we won't see the kinds of adoption we saw with other high-quality forms of immersive experiences in the living room" like high definition.