Panasonic Uses Olympics To Spur 3DTV Momentum

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New York - This summer's telecasts of the Olympics from London mark "the end of the beginning" of Panasonic's drive to generate mainstream acceptance of 3DTV home entertainment.


That was the pronouncement Tuesday of Panasonic's chief technology officer Eisuke Tsuyuzaki speaking to the press during a screening of NBC's 3D telecast of the game's events Tuesday, presented on a Panasonic 65-inch FullHD 3D plasma set here.

So far, he said, 3DTV sales numbers have been respectable if not spectacular.

Despite "the blood bath" in the television business of the last two years, 2012 numbers appear to be improving, according to Tsuyuzaki, quoting industry sales reports. Sales of 3D-ready TVs in the U.S. are expected to reach the cumulative 7 million unit mark by December 2012, compared with 500,000 units of HDTVs sold after five years, he said.

Regarding the active- vs. passive-glasses debate, he said that sales are expected to run 80 percent active compared with 20 percent passive by the end of this year, and consumers shouldn't hold off purchases as they hear about future technologies such as OLED, 4K and glasses-free 3D, unless they are prepared to wait a very long time. He said all of those promised technologies are likely to be very expensive for a number of years after they arrive and will each exhibit its own growing pains in a quest for mass market acceptance.

Closing the book on "chapter one" of the 3DTV rollout, Tsuyuzaki said he is leaving much of the work ahead to content producers and other companies standing on the sidelines.

He explained that Panasonic opted to sponsor the 3D production of the Olympic games because it has become a company tradition in the launch of an important new TV format.

"Every time that we bring a technology to the Olympics, it's getting one step closer to prime time and one step closer to mainstream," Tsuyuzaki said. "So, since we were a [longtime] Olympics A/V sponsor, it was an added incentive for us to figure out how to do it" in 3D.

In taking an early leadership position in the mainstream market for 3D, Tsuyuzaki acknowledged that efforts were made to make 3DTV channels a 24/7 staple with some multichannel video providers, but support was not always consistent. Instead, the technology officer said, he sees the 3D as largely "event driven" today, underscoring the importance of Panasonic's involvement as a key Olympics sponsor and broadcast technology enabler.

Similarly large events have included major golf and tennis tournaments and Major League Baseball's All-Star Game.

Discussions have also taken place for future productions of NFL games, he said, but nothing definitive is ready to be announced. Another hurdle for someone to cross will be getting a scripted 3DTV program on the air, he added.

The 3D Olympic Games coverage is being produced using three production trucks and 30 3D ENG cameras operated by the Olympics Broadcast Services and carried in the U.S. by NBC. Much of the equipment used was produced by Panasonic.

In the U.S., NBC's 3D coverage is being carried on a 24 hour-delayed basis by leading multichannel video service providers including: DirecTV, Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Cablevision, Cox, Verizon and AT&T, among others.

Dish and Charter are among the most notable exceptions.  

Although it was still too early to break out ratings results for the 3D coverage, Rob Simmelkjaer, NBC sports ventures and international senior VP, said, "We think this is something that when people have a chance to experience this event in this format, it is going to help grow the format. This is the absolute perfect crucible through which to experience this technology ... We think this could be a turning point, but obliviously, we're waiting along with everyone else to see where the technology goes and where consumer interest goes."

Simmelkjaer said that after the Olympics have concluded, NBC will sit down with its partners internally "and decide what will be the next big event to get behind."

Simmelkjaer said that despite the 24-hour delayed broadcast of the 3D games, NBC believes the 3D coverage this year "is more about the wonder of the pictures than it is about the actual competition. You may already know the results but seeing this is still spectacular even if you know who won the competition."

 Now, as the 3DTV rollout begins its second chapter, Tsuyuzaki suggested that he and Panasonic may not be leading the effort quite as aggressively as before, hinting that they would like to see others step up to plate, particularly from those in the content community.

"As a company we've done a lot of things to really create the industry," Tsuyuzaki said. "We've done a lot of things centered not only on standardization but on developing programming and distribution. I don't think I should continue to do that. It's found a little place in pockets but our DNA is to continue to make products. Going forward there are a few things in the hopper right now, so we won't let it go, but everyone needs to have some skin the game. What some people realized was that they thought they could go into commercial mode straight away - but it's an investment over the long haul. Panasonic is going to stay with 3D. It's not a fly by night thing. Similar to IPTV, it is going to take a very long time for this to grow, but I'm not in the content business. I'm not a pay-TV operator."


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