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ESPN study finds viewers like 3-D more than HDTV

It appears that sports fans liked watching ESPN’s coverage of the World Cup tournament this summer in 3-D TV more than 2-D HDTV. The results of a new study conducted by the sports network encompassing more than 1000 testing sessions (approximately 2700 lab hours) found that subjects showed “a higher level of viewer enjoyment” and “a stronger sense of presence” with the 3-D telecasts. Quantifying that even further, ESPN said fans’ enjoyment increased from 65 percent to 70 percent in 3-D, while “presence” went from 42 percent to 69 percent.

Duane Varan, a veteran of iTV applied research and professor of new media at Murdoch University in Perth, Australia, supervised the research, which was conducted in June during ESPN’s coverage of the 2010 FIFA World Cup at the Disney Media and Ad Lab in Austin, TX. The lab, which was developed to better understand the emotional drivers of audience behavior and physiological reactions to advertising, used 3-D TV sets from five different manufacturers in its testing.

The network said the research used an experimental design approach and more than 700 measures that included the use of perception analyzers, eye gaze and electrodermal activity. The study focused on a variety of topics, such as overall viewing enjoyment, fatigue and novelty effects, technology differences, production issues and advertising impact.

For sponsors, the study showed that viewer engagement was high when viewing 3-D ads, according to Artie Bulgrin, senior vice president of ESPN Research + Analytics. In fact, positive ad reception went from 67 percent to 84 percent.

After showing viewers the same ads in 2-D and 3-D, most picked the 3-D versions across a series of ad performance metrics “generally maintaining a higher level of arousal than the 2-D counterpart.” Testing participants also showed better recall of the ad in 3-D (cued recall went from 68 percent to 83 percent).

Interestingly, the study found that when given a choice between a passive and active viewing system, there were no major differences; although, participants said the passive glasses were more comfortable and less distracting that the bulkier active systems.

As for depth perception, the study found that there were no adverse effects on depth perception (stereopsis). It said that viewers were able to adjust to 3-D over time under normal use.

As part of the study, participants were tested prior to 3-D viewing, during the testing and after the test to capture a wide range of information. The Disney Media and Advertising Lab conducts year-round tests using advanced research techniques including biometric measurement tolls to evaluate engagement and emotional responses.

The results come in light of some public comments made by ESPN’s senior director of technology, Jonathan Pannaman, about the future of the network’s EPSN 3D channel. At the recent Sports Broadcast Europe conference in London, Oct. 28, Pannaman said, “We committed to a full-year trial of ESPN 3D, and we’re preparing for a second year. But whether this is something we repeat, continue or cut is something that at this point we have very little indication on one way or another,” he said. “We’re still not sure what makes sense for 3-D TV, and we don’t yet see a proven ROI.”

He added that the buzz surrounding 3-D TV is “huge, and we are hopeful of a huge push by the consumer electronics association ahead of Christmas to market 3-D TV sets and services. And, we’re seeing more stereo 3-D movies and 3-D Blu-ray Discs come to market.

Filling out this “full-year trial,” ESPN has committed to providing upcoming college football games, including the upcoming Fiesta Bowl Jan. 1 and the BCS National Championship game Jan. 10.