When the media world started making the slow transition to high-definition television, those of us on the bleeding edge paid our extra fee every month for a very small lineup of HD channels. But it was worth it if you spent the money on an HD TV, and networks and cable companies were happy to charge the extra fee.
As a reward, early movers into HD like Motley Fool Stock Advisor picks Disney (NYSE: DIS ) and Discovery Communications (Nasdaq: DISCK ) have done pretty well for shareholders. Disney is up 38.2% since the beginning of 2005, and Discovery Communications is up 136% since its IPO in 2007. Disney's ESPN is always on the cutting edge, and Discovery showed that its programming was even more compelling in HD.
Six years after I made the HD switch, we are starting to see another shift to 3-D just in time for the holiday season. TV ads are filled with advertising for 3-D TVs, and cable companies like DIRECTV (Nasdaq: DTV ) and Time Warner Cable (NYSE: TWC ) are starting to offer packages for 3-D viewers. So who is going to provide shareholders with nice returns from the 3-D movement?
We don't need to look any further than those taking the first-mover advantage again. Discovery is taking the lead again by partnering with Sony (NYSE: SNE ) and IMAX (Nasdaq: IMAX ) to launch a 3-D channel that should provide some pretty impressive programming. IMAX is contributing by offering technology and 3-D movies made for the big screen.
We can always expect ESPN to be on the cutting edge, and 3-D has been no different. ESPN 3-D is available before the number of 3-D TVs is even meaningful, and it is pushing the service with nonstop commercials.
And, of course, RealD (NYSE: RLD ) will be providing technology to manufacturers for all sorts of consumer electronic devices.
3-D probably won't become the "next HD" because not everyone sees value in 3-D, and not all content is valuable in 3-D. I see this as an advantage for the companies involved because 3-D content will remain a premium service, and customers will be willing to pay extra to see it. But no matter how big 3-D becomes, I want to be aligned with the first movers.