ESPN Discovers Sports Fans Don’t Care About 3D TV After All

The TV sports kingpin kills its 3D channel after three years, blames disinterested consumers.

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Christian Petersen / Getty Images

An ESPN 3D camera operator captures the NBA game between the Portland Trail Blazers and the Phoenix Suns on January 14, 2011 in Phoenix

”ESPN’s commitment to 3D is a win for fans and our business partners,” said [ESPN President George] Bodenheimer.  “ESPN 3D marries great content with new technology to enhance the fan’s viewing experience and puts ESPN at the forefront of the next big advance for TV viewing.”

That was ESPN talking about the future of sports in 3D back in January of 2010, when it announced it was launching a channel dedicated to them, ESPN 3D. It went live on June 11 of that year. And now, almost exactly three years later, the company has apparently concluded that 3D sports don’t have much of a future. It’s decided to shut down ESPN 3D by the end of this year, blaming low demand among consumers for the channel’s brief run.

The move doesn’t mark the end of the 3D TV channel dream–other providers are still around, such as 3net, a joint venture of Sony, IMAX and Discovery–but it’s one more piece of evidence that the TV watchers who were supposed to love 3D so much that they’d splurge on a giant new TV set and pricey glasses just aren’t all that interested. Their ennui presumably comes as a bit of a shock to the TV makers who spent several years breathlessly informing the world that 3D was the next big thing after HD.

I’m not surprised: I’ve always found 3D TV to be an eyesore at its (frequent) worst and a gimmick at best. The technology’s improving–my favorite is Dolby’s glasses-free version, which isn’t available on any TVs yet–but I’m sort of relieved to see evidence that the teeming masses, like me, see 3D as a minor whoop at best.

And even TV makers may have come to term with 3D’s limited appeal. When I spoke with Sony CEO Kaz Hirai as part of a press roundtable after the D conference, he talked up ultra-high-definition 4K TV–a technology I’m excited about myself–but mentioned 3D only in passing.

3D at home isn’t going to vanish: like all sorts of other technologies, it’ll just be built into every set. And as long as movies are made in 3D for theatrical consumption, there’s no reason for their makers not to release 3D versions for living-room consumption. But after movies, sports were supposed to be 3D TV’s other killer app. If they aren’t a big deal, neither is 3D.