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Why 3-D TV Has Been an Epic Failure

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If ESPN can't make 3-D TV work no one can. That's why ESPN's announcement that it would drop 3-D later this year is such a big deal. The company, which is owned by Disney (NYSE: DIS  ) , was one of the first to invest in 3-D, and is one of the first to throw in the towel, as well.  

High hopes gone awry
3-D televisions made a big splash at the 2010 CES show, and both manufacturers and investors had high hopes for the industry. About 3.2 million 3-D TVs were sold in 2010, and in early 2011, DisplaySearch projected that over 90 million 3-D TVs would be sold in 2014. 

No doubt there are a lot of 3-D TVs in living rooms around the world, but customers don't seem keen on paying for 3-D content to go along with them.

The interesting channel to watch now that ESPN is out of 3-D will be the fate of 3net, a partnership between IMAX, Sony, and Discovery. The channel was built to be focused on 3-D, and recently launched a production arm to create 3-D and 4K content. Presumably, the loss of ESPN will hurt demand for other 3-D channels like 3net, and it will be interesting to see what the fate of this venture is. 

What does this mean for the big screen?
It's not only the small screen where 3-D has struggled. The big screen saw an explosion of 3-D content after the success of Avatar in 2010, as IMAX and RealD (UNKNOWN: RLD.DL  ) expanded their offerings. But, since then, the industry has been more selective about how it uses 3-D. Batman director Christopher Nolan shunned 3-D, and hits like The Hunger Games and Skyfall weren't made in 3-D, meaning just one of last year's top four films were 3-D. 

You can see below that the decline of 3-D has had a huge impact on RealD's revenue and income.

RLD Revenue TTM Chart

RLD Revenue TTM data by YCharts

The company was counting on 3-D TV technology to grow revenue, as well, so the loss of ESPN is another blow for RealD. 

Foolish bottom line
3-D won't die completely, but it's apparent that it's hit a major wall right now. Consumers aren't willing to pay for 3-D TV, and the format isn't a huge success on the big screen right now, either. The huge projections people made about 3-D adoption appear to be completely wrong and, right now, this looks like an epic failure.

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Read/Post Comments (8) | Recommend This Article (17)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On June 14, 2013, at 9:36 PM, WhiteHatBobby wrote:

    What's not mentioned is the spectrum that Disney had been using for 3D ESPN will instead be sent to the new SEC Network that will start in 2014.

  • Report this Comment On June 17, 2013, at 5:33 PM, jabroniman wrote:

    3D tv is just a gimmick that the consumers weren't ready to buy into. It didn't help that it was heavily marketed during the 'Great Recession'.Those small few who have a 3D tv prob used it a handful of times before the gimmick wore off.

    Also Best Buy took a huge hit off the 3D tv failure as well.

  • Report this Comment On June 17, 2013, at 6:13 PM, rtichy wrote:

    My take on 3D TV and movies is that, 3D doesn't enhance your understanding of what you are watching. It does evoke emotional response from the viewer, and that emotion may be enhancing the viewer's overall response to the action, but it also confuses which causes less understanding.

    Now, with live sports, who wants to have less grasp of what is happening on the field or court? There is already so much action in many sports broadcasts, the viewers want more understanding in real time, not more emotion.

    Just IMO.

  • Report this Comment On June 17, 2013, at 7:52 PM, WuTangInvestment wrote:

    3d will become a popular format, it just is not ready yet.

    Two technologies will change this, one ready to hit consumers now and the other is still in development.

    First, the Oculus Rift is creating the 'VR' device, head tracking, head mounted 3d 1080p screens. This will alter the video game markets and change how we consume media as this technology continues to change.

    Second, 3d tv's in current form are so awful because nobody wants to wear glasses, the shift from 2d to 3d to 2d is cumbersome and tiring. As autostereoscopy techniques improve, 3d without the glasses will become possible from multiple viewing angles.

  • Report this Comment On June 18, 2013, at 5:44 AM, wax wrote:

    I have a friend that has a 3D TV. What a pain. He has to wear special glasses which if I remember were sort of expensive.

    According to him, the biggest bust with 3D TV is its lack of content. Their just isn't much outside of movies.

    In the early days of the internet, shortly after Mr. Gore invented it, the single largest driving factor was the porn industry. That industry spent heavily on web development and the use of new technologies to enhance their website ventures and as a result became a very wealthy industry.

    Maybe ESPN should try their hand at porn instead of sports. Probably be a helluva lot more profitable.


  • Report this Comment On June 19, 2013, at 12:39 AM, Rinehad100 wrote:

    I bought a 3D TV about a year and a half ago, on Thanksgiving weekend. Got it for about a hundred dollars more than a non-3D TV. Bought it after I found that only the sharpest TV's are ever modified to support 3D.

    3D TV's haven't taken off because Hollywood doesn't support them! You can't buy any 3D moves!!! None of the 3D movies I see at the theater ever come out as 3D at the discount stores or Amazon.

    My local theater almost always has a 3D movie showing, but the NEVER show up anywhere I can buy them. Shame. I love 3D. Glad I didn't pay the normal >$500 to buy my TV. Thanks for nothing Hollywood.


  • Report this Comment On June 23, 2013, at 4:55 PM, reesrdad wrote:

    I bought a samsung 3D tv a few months ago, then, of course had to buy a 3D dvd player. The system works fine. The Samsung glasses are only $20. BUT, what is there to watch? I bought a nature DVD and Avatar in 3d, but that is all I have seen. I do not subscribe to premiun cable channels. My only hope is Netfix, but even they are only offering 3D in streaming - no dvd's - so I haven't watched anything there either.

    Good news is I have a great tv to watch in 2D

  • Report this Comment On June 24, 2013, at 12:09 PM, fastpitchdad13 wrote:

    I agree with the previous comments that 3-D content is not readily available. In my opinion watching a movie in Bluray 3-D is eye candy on our Sharp 3-D TV. You can obtain these DVD's from Unfortunately, 3D content is otherwise not readily available and that's the problem. My wife and I do not mind wearing the glasses because the 3D images are sensational. But that is our personal preference and may not be shared with others.

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