TORONTO - "Hockey Night in Canada" is going 3D with at least two special broadcasts this winter and the head of CBC Sports thinks it's just the start of a lot more to come.
But if you ask how many people he expects will watch the 3D broadcasts, or how many people have the technology to tune in, he admits he has no idea.
"At this point, we don't even know how many 3D TVs are out there. I don't think anyone has a true grip on it, it's very similar to the beginning of high definition; no one could really tell," said Scott Moore, executive director of CBC Sports.
"If I gave you an estimate I'd probably be way off. I'm not being evasive, I honestly don't know."
BBM Canada, the non-profit organization that tracks TV ratings, said it doesn't have any data on 3D viewership yet.
"The system would be able to do it if the TV industry decided they wanted it, but as far as I know, no one has talked about it yet," said Tom Jenks, director of communications for BBM.
But despite the uncertainty, CBC wants to be a leader in the technology, Moore said. The broadcaster teamed up with Panasonic Canada to go to air with 3D broadcasts of a Dec. 11 game between the Montreal Canadiens and the Toronto Maple Leafs, and the Heritage Classic on Feb. 20, 2011, an outdoor game at Calgary's McMahon Stadium.
Panasonic is helping CBC with some of the expertise and production equipment for the 3D broadcasts and becomes an official sponsor of "Hockey Night in Canada." The partnership helps CBC get more 3D content for its eager early-adopter viewers, and should give a boost to the 3D TV industry, which still doesn't have a lot of content to help sell units, Moore said.
"The scheduling of our games is not accidental, the first game being before Christmas and the second game after," Moore said.
"You can't create demand without content and without content there will be no demand.... Sports is compelling 3D content, we saw that during the World Cup, and I think (3D hockey) will create demand. You can't sell TV sets unless there's something to put on it."
CBC is currently working with the various cable and satellite providers to have the 3D signal available on a special digital channel in time for the two games. For those without the special 3D TV and glasses, talks are also underway to screen the games at movie theatres.
While it's still early days for the technology, Moore expects 3D viewing will take off faster than high definition did.
"It will take some time for full adoption—I'm not sure whether it will be fully adopted in a year, two years, five years—but I'm pretty sure it will become more prevalent quicker than HD," he said.
"I say that because I first saw HD in 1992 and it took until 2003 or 2004 until it was really totally prevalent—and the content didn't lead the way quite as quickly as it has in 3D.
"I'm pretty sure it will become more prevalent quicker than HD simply because people are used to turning over their technology quicker and quicker these days."
But Moore said viewers shouldn't expect that CBC will start producing endless amounts of 3D content, because it's still extremely expensive to product.
"It's way—and way in capital W-A-Y—more expensive to do than HD, to a factor of substantially more than the conversion was from standard definition to HD," he said.
"The second issue is the glasses. People watch television—and in many ways sports—while multitasking, so it'll be difficult to multitask with the glasses on. But having said that, for big events like the Stanley Cup finals, the World Cup final, the outdoor game we're doing in 3D, I think those are the types of events people sit down and watch anyways."
This year's Stanley Cup finals, however, might be difficult to pull off, Moore concedes. CBC and Panasonic looked at doing some 3D programming during last season's NHL playoffs but found cost was a significant barrier.
"The challenge is that those games are incredibly expensive to do," he said.
"We couldn't free up new camera positions (for 3D cameras) because all the seats were sold.... I'm not sure the economics quite work yet with us being able to buy those camera positions, because the reality is you have to buy out those (expensive) seats."