Published by Torsten Hoffmann, March 2014.
The first part of this opinionpiece received a lot of views, generated many retweets, was reposted on several other 3D sites and spurred a lively discussion on LinkedIn. I have also received numerous suggestions and direct feedback. Thank you all for that.
Here is the second part of my article in which I try to show that everyone in our industry has contributed to the current 3D crisis.
6. 3D Broadcasters
A. The 3D TV Channels can be accused of being short-sighted. In hindsight we can say that most of the 3D channels were too early. They started broadcasting and investing heavily in (mostly live) content at a time where there were virtually no 3DTVs in the market. Live content is extremely difficult, costly, and commercial suicide because no one ever watches replays of yesterday’s sports game. And two years later, sure enough, the same 3D broadcasters are closing down declaring that “3D is dead”. Both their entries and exits can now be seen as premature. But at least they tried, and spent considerable funds doing so.
B. Even the larger 3D broadcasters backed by big media corporations did not acquire or commission third party content in meaningful volume. Only initially few projects were commissioned to big production companies. In 3D, the learning curve is steep and normally the third and fourth production from a filmmaker turns out really well. Unfortunately, very few producers ever got to this stage. Most independent producers never got a chance to learn and the larger production firms have already moved on (to 4k or ‘back’ to HD). Only a handful of dedicated firms get the majority of 3D production budgets. They produce on the highest level, but this is a small and exclusive club. Hence, the broadcasters missed the opportunity to create a wider production ecosystem.
7. Equipment makers.
A. This is not an area of my expertise but as far as I can tell, for independent filmmakers some of the kit is up to 10 times too expensive. In a market that pays lower license fees for 3D than 2D versions of films, I don’t need to do the math to see that this is a problem. Most indie producers hence relied on pro-sumer cameras and self-made rigs, which obviously resulted in lower quality 3D films. Moreover, it reinforced the “bad 3D content” narrative in the press and among .
B. Aside from the high costs, some manufacturers of 3D rigs and cameras have created the impression that one needs special 3D consultants (often in-house) or in-depth knowledge of the new equipment. While this created a small and healthy industry for 3D production crews and stereographers, it also scared many 2D filmmakers who never took a chance ‘to try out 3D’.
8. DVD and BluRay labels.
This part of the ecosystem still has the most to gain from 3D. As physical media continues to lose against Video on Demand, both regular (2D) BluRays and 3D BluRays yield higher per unit prices and surely must be a new welcome niche for publishers. Added replication costs for the 3D versions are negligible and with the growing penetration of 3DTVs and 3D BluRay players (or gaming consoles) in the households makes 3D a no-brainer. However, the Home Entertainment industry suffers from total risk aversion. Once a driver of innovation (a fascinating article here: http://tcrn.ch/JzM0Zf) the labels have now become mere third-tier exploitation windows for the Hollywood studios and are generally not open to independent content, new ideas or formats. The only market where 3D BluRays continue to perform well is Germany. This is where we operate our own 3D label under the brand “3D Content Hub”, but even here the market is full of copy cats and companies that churn out re-releases of B-movies with low quality 2D-to-3D conversions. We have tried to roll out creative ideas such as a compilation of 3D shortfilms (Best of 3D) with some success and establish a new segment with the 3D Masterpieces series (3D Digital Art and Music) with moderate success. I am not aware of similar activities in other territories but continue to be on the look-out for potential partners all over the world. Fact remains, that Innovation is almost non-existent and it is almost impossible for any 3D producer outside the Hollywood and IMAX world to get his/her film published on BluRay.
9. 3D Apps
While this is one of my favourite part of the industry with many smaller risk-taking startups and services, the sad truth is that none of these services are places to generate income yet. They remain small and actual consumer spending is very low. I haven’t seen really aggressive marketing campaigns or branding initiatives, so I suspect that the money spent on building these businesses continues to be relatively small.
A. Film Festivals are part of the ‘fun’ in our industry. Unfortunately most traditional festivals have not really woken up to 3D, which is surprising because (a) such a large proportion of box office results are now generated by 3D blockbuster films and (b) are there are so many very high-quality 3D shortfilms (live action and animated) being produced worlwide.
B. As a result, many smaller specialized 3D festivals have sprung up and I truly love these guys. However, at the moment there are too small to even get noticed. These events are put on by hobbyist and enthusiasts. This is great, but it also means that they lack professional content sourcing, are always working on short notice and have no proper selection, nomination and award processes. Our films have won dozens of awards and I am so grateful that these smaller events exist however I firmly believe the time has come to launch 3D ‘streams’ into regular filmfestivals.
11. TV Makers
The TV manufacturers are the first to be blamed for the failure of 3D in the living room. Hopefully in this article I have identified other contributing factors and actors to the state of the industry.
A. 3D Content. If you want to sell 3D TVs at a higher price, you must offer content. Many TV makers started with offering bundle deals (Free BluRays), others launched Smart TV streaming VOD apps. Selling content to TV makers for this purpose has been a major revenue source for indie 3D filmmakers, that’s good. Nevertheless, I doubt that most 3DTV owners have ever installed the 3D apps, or watched content. There is not enough fresh content to attract viewers to revisit. There are no blockbusters or famous 3D films on these services. And many TV makers didn’t even have their own proprietary services, relying on third party apps (discussed above). Hence, I think it is fair to blame the TV makers for the lack of 3D content, to some degree.
B. Glasses. I am not sure how much of the passive versus active glasses discussions has really trickled down from our industry to the electronic shops. Maybe this was never a major issue with the consumers. However, there is no denying the fact that people indeed suffered nausea or found active glasses to be too expensive to even bother. Some would say that maybe it was a mistake to release 3D with glasses in the first place – the TV makers should have waited for glasses-free 3D technology. I don’t buy this argument. Fact is that the CE industry works in ever quicker release windows and is fuelled by innovative new features. No TV maker in 2012 would have dared to miss out on the 3D hype. But hopefully the same decision makers will not make the same mistakes with the roll-out of 4k televisions and autostereoscopic screens. The lessons are clear: a) new screens without content are of little value b) don’t introduce ‘half-baked’ products.
C. Conversion. Without a doubt, one thing hurt the industry. The native vs. converted 3D debate. I am not going into detailed discussions here (we have had them for the past 3 years on many forums) but I do want to point out that there are many legitimate uses for conversions for the ‘right’ reasons. This is now widely accepted. However, the TV manufacturers also offered real-time conversion software ‘embedded’ in the hardware with oftentimes horrible results. I also think that this is now undisputed among 3D experts. So, one fair criticism in my view would be that the TV makers did not have a a voice, a clear position, on conversion quality and technologies used. This lead to hundreds of cheap software providers churning out painfully bad 3D, which hurt the entire industry.
I am looking forward to hearing your thoughts.