NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Hoping to prime demand for 3-D TVs, Sony has sponsored a 3-D video version of Sports Illustrated's new Swimsuit Issue for consumers to rent or buy starting Feb. 15 through Sony's PlayStation 3 and Bravia web-enabled, 3D-compatible TVs and Blu-ray players.
The half-hour "Swimsuit in 3-D" video, some of which Sony plans to show off in its booth at CES in Las Vegas, isn't going to be a huge moneymaker because not that many people own 3-D TVs yet. That's part of the point, according to Sony, which has been one of the most aggressive marketers of 3-D TVs.
"There's sort of a chicken-and-egg problem going on right now, where the device penetration has been fairly low, so the studios have been fairly slow to release 3-D content," said Michael Aragon, VP and general manager for global digital video distribution and operations at Sony Network Entertainment. "Our expectation and our road map on this whole thing has been that this is going to be a little bit slower adoption than HD. While we might not be making tons of money on the 3-D content, it seeds a universe of product that we have in 3-D."
Lackluster sales for 3-D TVs have recently sparked arguments that the whole home 3-D push will be a grind at best, and hardly the next big thing any time soon. Last year manufacturers shipped 1.6 million 3-D TVs to retailers in North America out of 42.5 million flatscreen TVs shipped in North American overall, according to DisplaySearch, a research and consulting unit of The NPD Group.
Traction is coming slowly partly because the necessary glasses are too expensive for anyone to supply, say, their guests at a Super Bowl party, said Michael Pachter, a managing director in equity research at Wedbush Securities. And different formats mean friends couldn't bring glasses from home even if they owned their own 3-D sets unless they were all from the same manufacturer.
Content is the other problem: Studios aren't releasing enough movies in 3-D to make 3-D sets important for regular viewing, Mr. Pachter said. "So the selling point in 3-D TVs is 3-D TV," he said. That's coming along, particularly in sports like football.
But there's limited bandwidth, Mr. Pachter said, and not enough room for more than a few networks to add 3-D channels. "The migration of content is going to take a long time," he said.
Sony actually argues that 3-D gaming is going to be a key driver of 3-D TV sales, but it's planning to be patient in any case. "We're in this for the long haul," Mr. Aragon said.
The "Swimsuit in 3-D" video is part of a bigger Swimsuit Issue pact between Time Inc.'s Sports Illustrated and Sony, which will also sell and rent 2-D swimsuit videos and photos through its networked devices.
And it's OK if the 3-D piece isn't huge yet, Sports Illustrated agreed. "As far as 3-D TV goes, the distribution is growing, but it's not at scale at this point in time," said Mark Ford, president of the sports group at Time Inc. "But when it is, we're going to be there as well."
The 3-D video is expected sell for $7.99 and rent for $4.99. Its 2-D equivalent is expected to sell for $6.99 and rent for $3.99. Sony plans to stoke demand with a free three-minute version.
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