Yet another blow to 3DTV: BBC puts the brakes on stereoscopic program production

Last week’s Wimbledon tennis tournament might have been the last live sporting event broadcast by the BBC in stereoscopic 3-DTV, due to a lack of viewers of any real significance. Kim Shillinglaw, who heads up the UK national broadcaster’s 3-D production division, said the BBC would suspend 3-D program development by the end of this year.

In fact, a “Doctor Who” anniversary special in November and the final episodes of nature documentary series “Hidden Kingdom” will be among the last shows televised in 3-D in the UK by the BBC because, according to Shillinglaw, the technology has “not taken off” with viewers because they find it “quite hassly.” She also said there are no plans to reconsider the technology until 2017 at the earliest (if ever).

“After that, we will see what happens when the recession ends, and there may be more take up of sets,” Shillinglaw told “But I think the BBC will be having a wait and see. It's the right time for a good old pause.”

“I have never seen a very big appetite for 3-D television in the UK,” she said. “I think when people watch TV, they concentrate in a different way. When people go to the cinema, they go and are used to doing one thing. I think that's one of the reasons that take up of 3-D TV has been disappointing.”

Shillinglaw will return to her main job at the BBC, as head of science and natural history, when the project ends at the end of this year.

The BBC began a two-year 3-D trial in 2011, broadcasting several shows and events in a side-by-side 3D method, including the 2012 Olympic Games and the popular “Strictly Come Dancing” show.

Shillinglaw told that only about half of the UK’s 3-D TV sets tuned into the opening ceremonies of last summer’s Olympics. Interest in other shows was even lower, with Christmas broadcasts of other popular programs said to have attracted only one in 20 3-D-enabled viewers.

The announcement comes on the heels of ESPN’s recent decision to shut down its ESPN 3-D channel by year’s end and FIFA rethinking its use of the 3-D for next summer’s World Cup soccer tournament. Despite the BBC’s decision, BSkyB continues to promote the technology with its Sky 3D channel that launched in April 2010. Sky 3D recently renewed its partnership with Sir David Attenborough through Colossus Productions (a joint venture for 3D programming between Sky 3D and Atlantic Productions), which is producing David Attenborough's Natural History Museum Adventure that will air later this year and the two-part “Conquest of the Skies,” set for broadcast late in 2014.

In the home, the requirement to use special glasses to view 3-D programs has proved a significant hurdle for widespread consumer adoption. Indeed, many in the U.S. with 3-D-capable TVs don’t even use the feature, citing a lack of interesting programs and the expense of extra pairs of glasses for friends. Recent studies involving U.S. viewers found that no more than 120,000 people are watching 3-D channels at any one time.

In making its separate announcement regarding the broadcast of 3-D images last month, Niclas Ericson, FIFA’s Director of Television, said while several broadcasters have expressed interest in broadcasting Cup games in 3-D, the costs of providing 3-D feeds was being reviewed.

“Whether this (limited appeal for 3-D) is temporary and this will come back in a few years in a new way, we don’t know,” he said. “We are spending most of our efforts (on high-definition coverage), and that’s most important for us.”

David Hochner, CEO at SatLink Communications, echoed those sentiments.

“The news that the BBC has decided to abandon 3-D broadcasting due to a poor take up from the British public during the two-year trial is not a great surprise as it is still viewed as being as too much of a hassle from the perspective of the audience, and to a similar extent, providers," he said. "Over the past few years, we have not seen a great demand for the technology, and that is due to the simple fact that there is no practical application of the technology in terms of benefits vs. cost argument. Developing and deploying 3-D technology is very expensive for broadcasters and requires using a great deal of bandwidth, a commodity that is already heavily restricted, and yet audiences do not want to sit at home with special glasses on to view their favorite programs.

"Ultimately there is no real need for 3-D broadcasting at this stage and instead time, energy and focus should remain on enhancing the viewer experience in other ways, whether it is through Ultra HD, providing OTT applications, or transcoding content to various mobile and tablet devices, and not at this stage at developing a technology that adds no benefit to all parties.”