What's Wrong With RealD?

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3-D projection purveyor RealD (NYSE: RLD  ) was supposed to report a non-GAAP net loss last night but delivered a small profit instead. $58.5 million of sales also beat expectations, and the stock jumped nearly 10% in after-hours trading.

So why are realD shares falling like spilt popcorn today, dropping as far as 19%? I guess it's all in the delivery.

Glance at an after-hours RealD chart and you'll see the decline starting during the Q&A section of RealD's earnings call with analysts -- albeit on minuscule volume.

3-D movies aren't setting the world on fire the way they were supposed to. Management spent plenty of time batting away concerns about lackluster 3-D attendance to recent big-ticket features Kung Fu Panda 2 by DreamWorks Animation SKG (Nasdaq: DWA  ) and Walt Disney's (NYSE: DIS  ) Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides. "I don't think two films a trend make," said CEO Michael Lewis. "We're very excited about the overall film slate for the next coming years." But the whole discussion reminded investors just how little 3-D sales helped the poor, misproduced panda from DreamWorks, and the stock never recovered.

A few upcoming near-guaranteed blockbusters should provide some evidence of how much the average moviegoer cares about 3-D pyrotechnics -- if you can't sell the next installments of Harry Potter and Transformers in this format, then you can't sell a space heater to Eskimos.

The consumer-electronics market is another cause for concern. Multidimensional consumer electronics are selling like freezing-cold cakes, and 3-D functionality is not much of a selling point -- if you bought a 3-D-enabled Blu-ray player or TV set, chances are that you liked the product for other reasons and just accepted the 3-D stuff as a bonus you'll never use. RealD hopes that a licensing deal with Samsung will change all that by putting 3-D screens on laptops and desktop computers from Dell (Nasdaq: DELL  ) , Toshiba, and Hewlett-Packard (NYSE: HPQ  ) -- Samsung makes screens for all of 'em.

But then you're assuming that consumers want to don special glasses to read their computer screens or maybe even watch movies, and that's not a smart bet. I expect this effort to fail just like 3-D TV sets have -- only faster.

All things considered, RealD shares are pretty much back where they were after last July's IPO. I can think of several better ways to invest in newfangled movie technologies, with huge-screen vendor IMAX (Nasdaq: IMAX  ) chief among them.

It's a good idea to keep a close eye on RealD, just in case it turns out to have a turnaround story to tell. I don't see any signs of that today, but surprises happen every day. Add RealD to My Watchlist and you'll be sure to catch the early signs of recovery while there's still time to make money from the new trend -- if it ever happens.

Fool contributor Anders Bylund holds no position in any of the companies discussed here. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Walt Disney, DreamWorks Animation SKG, and IMAX. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. You can check out Anders' holdings and a concise bio if you like, and The Motley Fool is investors writing for investors.

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  • Report this Comment On June 11, 2011, at 11:12 AM, teviny2k wrote:

    I disagree with future of 3D. I have a 3D TV and I go to 3D movies. The experience is superb and all future media WILL BE 3D. I expect, at some point, that even this article will have a "3D" ad for me to view as I read. Everything from billboards to smart phones to a small business sign that says "open" in 3D will be the future. Imagine Times Square converting 90% of its advertising to a 3D experience. Ad's poping out to grab your attention. Ad's that appear to follow you from one side of the street to the other.

    The key to this generation of 3D is the high definition. Past generations of 3D have never been this clear. My complaint is still the lack of "good" content. Example...I love watching sports in 3D, however, I find myself viewing the 2D more for the multiple camera shots that 3D doesnt have yet. The reason is they have less 3D camera's in the building.

    The best sporting event in 3D I have seen, whithout question, was the 2011 Masters. That venu only has a few limited camera postions and they stocked each postion with a 3D camera. I saw Augusta in a way I've never seen before. I would never want to watch the Masters again in 2D, it just wont be the same.

    3D is to 2D what color was to black & white.

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