British eyeballs can rest easy now. The BBC is putting its two-year 3D television pilot program on hold, citing lack of viewer interest. When the Dr. Who 50th anniversary show airs during the 2013 holiday season, it will mark the last 3D offering by the broadcaster for the foreseeable future.
The Three Ds: Devices, Desire ... And Dismissal
According to Kim Shillinglaw, who oversees the public broadcasting corporation's 3D initiative, the technology simply failed to capture British audiences. Approximately 1.5 million U.K. households own compatible television sets, and yet only half tuned in to the BBC's 3D broadcast of the Olympics Opening Ceremony. Across the board, there was a dearth of public interest in watching programs—such as Mr. Stink, Strictly Come Dancing and Walking with Dinosaurs—in 3D. Some shows only drew a measly 5% of potential viewers.
Even Sony, one of the leading makers of 3D televisions, admitted last year that 3D "is not hugely important" to people. So if viewers aren't enamored with this technology, then that leaves a big question mark on who the major proponents actually are.
The NPD Group may have the answer. Its Retail Tracking Service reported that sales of 3D TV sets grew a whopping 74% worldwide in Q1 2012. LG Display, a major supplier of TV panels, returned to profitability in 2012, largely due to 33% year-over-year sales growth of large televisions—and half of those had 3D features.
But Sony isn't wrong either. NPD Group's 3D 360 Monitor survey revealed that, even though sales were high, engagement fell short. The reason: Similar to the way people see TV Internet features, consumers don't consider 3D to be essential for their TV viewing. Of the participants who planned to buy a new television in the following 6 months, only 14% called it a “must-have.” Meanwhile, 68% vaguely say it's a “nice-to-have" feature they might use one day.
But that day clearly isn't now. The question is whether it will ever be.
The 3D Exodus Has Started
Shillinglaw believes she knows why viewers aren't taking to 3D: The user experience is flat-out annoying.
“Watching 3D is quite a hassly experience in the home," she says. "You’ve got to find your glasses before switching on the TV. I think when people watch TV they concentrate in a different way … I think that’s one of the reasons that take up of 3D TV has been disappointing.”
Her employer is not the only one deflated by the unrealized potential of this technology. Last month, ESPN also tossed its 3D TV aspirations, killing its 3D network.
The BBC seems slightly more hopeful, leaving the door open for future resumption. Instead of fully terminating the program, the broadcaster is putting its 3D trial on an extended break of three years. “After that we will see what happens when the recession ends and there may be more takeup of sets," adds Shillinglaw, "but I think the BBC will be having a 'wait and see.' It’s the right time for a good old pause."
In the meantime, though their numbers may be few, 3D fans can still look forward to some eye-popping Dr. Who action later this year.
How fitting that a Time Lord has been employed to usher TV's next generation technology into suspended animation for the next few years.
Lead image from the "Dr. Who Christmas Special 2011 Trailer" (via BBC on YouTube)
Image of LG Smart TV courtesy of LG