Sony to stop subsidizing 3-D glasses at movie theaters

Many moviegoers — already being charged premium prices for sometimes inferior 2-D to 3-D motion picture conversions — may find 3-D prices increasing even further when Sony stops underwriting the cost of 3-D glasses for the 2012 movie season.

Several media reports say Sony has told theater owners it will cease payments for 3-D glasses next summer. Cost estimates associated with the free, reusable glasses are about $5 million for a $100 million motion picture release.

Movie theaters find themselves in a tough spot since they already place a surcharge on every 3-D ticket sold. Consumers, who assume that money is going directly to pay for the glasses, are unhappy — especially at the hit-and-miss quality of 3-D conversions. If the owners impose another dollar or two onto ticket prices, it could mean many theatergoers will forego 3-D movies altogether.

This was not good news for RealD — the 3-D glasses maker — which saw its stock drop 14 percent after news of Sony’s refusal to pay for additional glasses. There were already indications that RealID’s revenues were falling this summer as international moviegoers got in the habit of reusing their 3-D glasses.

Theaters may challenge Sony, but it will be hard for them to pass up engagements of “Men in Black III” and “The Amazing Spider-Man.” At the end of the day, it’s the movie ticket buyers who will end up paying for the glasses.

Smaller movie exhibitors are having a hard time making the numbers work at the higher costs. A recent story in the “Chicago Tribune” looked at how the ongoing digital conversion is already putting some mom-and-pop theaters in a difficult financial spot.

The increasing cost of 3-D films with poor technical quality influences not only motion pictures theatres, but 3DTV, which has hardly been a financial success in 3-D sales so far.