3-D films show signs of consumer fatigue

It seems like it’s been a long time since “Avatar” launched the current 3-D movement by taking in $2.73 billion at the box office, but that was only last year. This year has not been so successful with the flop of “Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore” and “Step Up 3D,” the dance film.

With 3-D tickets priced as high as 50 percent more than comparable 2-D films, analysts have expressed doubts about whether consumer appetite for the format can be sustained.

“The studios and theaters are overpricing 3-D films, and there's too much of it out there,” Richard Greenfield, an analyst with BTIG Research, told the Financial Times. “They are converting all of their movies into 3-D without any regard to quality.”

The studios have packed their release schedules with 3-D films including “Tron: Legacy,” “The Green Hornet,” “Megamind” and “Yogi Bear” set for release in the coming months, while “Avatar” will be rereleased (with new scenes) in 3-D at the end of this month. Analysts say the studios are playing a risky game by betting on unwavering consumer enthusiasm for 3-D and for higher prices.

“The studios are guilty of short-term thinking,” said Brandon Gray, president of Box Office Mojo, a firm that tracks film box-office performance. “They all jumped on the 3-D bandwagon, but they're avoiding the real issue, which is their bankruptcy regarding storytelling.”

Meanwhile, TV set manufacturers are hedging their bets in the current cutthroat environment amid a slow U.S. economic recovery. Many retail outlets feature one or two 3-D TV set displays among more than a dozen 2-D HD models. Consumers still consider 3-D TV an expensive gimmick, and there's not much more the manufacturers can do to produce better hardware with higher specs.

At January's upcoming Consumer Electronics Show, some manufacturers are talking about shifting their strategies from 3-D sets to interactive applications that reside on receivers. These set makers have discovered they can create continuing income streams by working with content providers to create their own app stores.

Take, for example, the Samsung BD-C8000 portable Blu-ray player. It offers Internet TV on an HD set with downloadable widgets and apps. Owners can shop online, share pictures, catch up with friends and connect to a wide range of streaming digital content using the machine. The player also has wireless LAN capability built in that allows users to connect multiple sets in a home and play files stored on their personal computers.

Of course, the finger pointing has begun. Set manufacturers blame content providers for dropping the ball on 3-D. After extensive backlash against poorly rendered 3-D effects in movies like “Clash of the Titans” and “G-Force,” the phenomenon may have begun to wane. On the manufacturing side, the antisocial nature of 3-D sets, with expensive active-shutter glasses and incompatibility between different manufacturers’ sets, hasn't helped sell the format either.