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The 3D Mirage

3DTV is a non-starter for three reasons.

1.  Bandwagon marketing.  3DTV came along about the same time as the proliferation of 3D theaters and movies, just after mid decade.  The promise for both was all very exciting.  The studios and theater chains saw 3D as a “next big thing”; something to attract larger crowds of moviegoers. Seeing their enthusiasm, CE manufacturers and retailers said, “Us too!  People will see how cool 3D is and will want this at home”, they said.

I recall reading a report a few years ago alleging that cable and satellite providers saw 3D as a replacement for their diminishing ability to sell HD.  In other words, they assumed HD would be premium content people will be willing to pay for.  We all now see how that turned out.

So what happened?

This is another example of “bandwagon marketing”.  These three sort-of-but-not-really-related industries all jumped on 3D at roughly the same time, each seeing increasing potential as they “smoked” each other’s marketing “dope”. 

“This will be HUGE and we’ve GOT to be there!  Those guys in (fill in “CE”, “movie industry”, “cable/satellite providers” as appropriate) will be and when they are EVERYONE will want 3D!”

This was demand they imagined would come based on the collective efforts of all, in addition, no doubt, to the response coming from a few focus groups. 

No one knows better than me that focus group responses can identify potential success or failure.  But you have to be careful, particularly when dealing with something with so many plusses and minus associated with it as is true of 3D.  Sure, it initially looked “cool” but that doesn’t make it the guy/girl you take home to meet mom.

2.  The difference between living rooms and theaters. When it comes to my twice-annual visit to a theater, I’m all over a big box of artery clogging, salty, lard popped, popcorn.  At home?  “Hit play as soon as I take my Lipitor and grab a beer.”  Boring, I know and not the only difference. 

My trips to the theater are purposeful, as much to break the routine of home entertainment as to see a movie I could just as easily watch at home.  I dress differently for each, often watch movies with more people I know at one location, less at the other.  And I do/don’t do a few things I won’t share with you here, again, depending on where I am.  If I need to wear glasses to see the 3D effects at a theater, why not?  However at home? . . . mmm, no!

In other words, the two are not at all the same and based on my research I can tell you with absolute certainty, I’m not the only one who feels that way.  Consumers do as well.  Movie theaters and living rooms may show the same movie but that’s about all they have in common.

3.  3DTV is a feature not a product.  I know the same can be said for HD and color both of which were features as well when they first arrived.  However they are the only two I know of that in and of themselves were enough to cause a lot of people to decide it was time to buy a new TV.  HD did and to a much greater extent color did as well, but everything else was just gilding the lily. 

So what now? 

3DTV isn’t dead but it also isn’t leading the way for future TV sales.  A feature, yes, just not THE feature.  I don’t know what the next “Big Thing” will be.  Whatever it is, before you run after that bandwagon, stop and critically think through the logic upon which the enthusiasm is based.  While sometimes difficult you should do all you can to spot the mirage, glasses or no glasses.

William Matthies is CEO of Coyote Insight, LLC, a strategy and planning consultancy.  He can be reached at [email protected], 714 726-2901.  Visit Business Wisdom and share your views on management.