23 October 2012

Broadcast 3DTV budgets & economic 3-D production reality

3D Film and television numbers

Before diving into the current world of 3DTV, let’s look at some numbers that are most relevant to the question of a successful future for 3-D film in specific, 3-D as a medium overall and 3DTV as part of this.  Feature film boxoffice sales are not 3DTV program sales numbers, but they are an indicator of audience appetite for 90 minutes of 3-D entertainment of the highest quality level.  Besides this, 3-D feature films are currently still the biggest schedule fillers on 3DTV channels.  Quality-wise, 3DTV content will always be a lot worse and budget-wise it will always be an awful lot cheaper.  Those two factors are bad news for watchable 3-D production as quality is an absolute requirement for 3-D enjoyment or even watch-ability.

The highest grossing 3-D movies Internationally, inflation corrected:

1. Avatar                          $2,853.6 m   B: $280 m  (2009)    ( 1.)    Live-Action & CGI
2. The Avengers         $1,511.8 m   B: $220 m  (2012)    ( 3.)    Converted Live-Action & CGI
3. Pirates OTC 4          $1,051.5 m   B: $250 m  (2011)    (10.)   Live-Action & CGI
4. Alice IW                     $1,033.3 m   B: $200 m  (2010)     (12.)  Converted Live-Action & CGI
5. Up                                   $  786.1 m    B: $175 m  (2009)    (47.)  CGI
6. Kung Fu Panda 2    $  681.9 m    B: $150 m  (2011)    (57.)  CGI
7. Tangled                       $  592.0 m   B: $260 m  (2010)     (74.)  CGI
8. Cars 2                           $  573.5 m   B: $200 m  (2011)      (82.)  CGI
9. Puss in Boots          $  568.2 m    B: $130 m  (2011)     (83.)  CGI
10. Despicable me        $  547.9 m    B: $ 69 m   (2010)     (89.)  CGI
11. Brave                          $  528.7 m   B: $185 m  (2012)      (92.)  CGI

Key points that can be extracted from these numbers:

- Of the top 100 highest grossing movies internationally, only 11 (11%) are in 3-D.
- All top 11 3-D movies were released in the past 3 years, coinciding with the digital 3-D theater projector switch-over and with a global economic crisis.
- All released in 2-D and in 3-D, percentages unknown.
- 4 live-action titles, 7 animated.
- 5 franchises (2nd,3rd or 4th parts), 6 new titles.
- 2 Sci-fi titles, 9 Fantasy.  No other genres represented.
- Of the live-action releases 2 are converted, 2 shot in native 3-D.
- 2 movies have budgets between $ 70 m - $ 130 m, the rest is $150 m - $ 280m, with $ 200 m being the average budget.

According to personal boxoffice research conducted by Dreamworks' stereoscopic supervisor Phil McNally, MegaMind was the last CGI feature from any studio to show parity between 3-D screen revenue and 2-D screen revenue. Brave was the first CGI feature where 3D screen revenue was half that of 2D screen revenue.  For Brave this would still mean a 3-D profit of 139 m USD, considering a 3-D budget overhead of 20% - a guess but a reasonable one considering Pixar's production pipeline.

The real noticeable factors are the continued dominance of fantasy and sci-fi generes for 3-D releases, as per the 100 year historical trend of 3-D feature film releases and the dominance of 2-D to 3-D conversion for live-action 3-D releases.  The last factor has, of course, a lot to do with budget and top quality conversion costs versus native 3-D shooting price points (15 m versus 60m on a 200 m budget).  And when talking about CGI-content-rich movies, conversion costs are even more of a realistic practical and financial proposition than native 3-D shooting. The CGI-richness is of course driven by the genres of sci-fi and fantasy and this, in turn, has a lot to do with the family audience factor (U, PG and 12) and the higher ROI this yields at the boxoffice.  The release of CGI features in 3-D speaks for itself, but the question of child-safety and suitability is not answered by high boxoffice numbers.  This is a different subject altogether.
One has to be careful to call the success of these films a result of 3-D ticket sales as well, because all these titles were released in 2-D and in 3-D, making it difficult to filter out the difference the 3-D markup made.

What is heart-warming to see is that the 3-D film with the best 3-D layout in 3-D film history is also one of the highest grossing 3-D films of all time (nr. 7) and at the same time one of the most expensive film productions of all time (nr. 8): Disney’s Tangled(Rapunzel).  The expense has gone towards better 3-D layout and animation quality, resulting in higher boxoffice returns.  Perfect score.

Who’s paying for 3DTV content?

Of course the biggest part of the 3DTV equation and the question on everybody’s lips is: who is buying 3-D television content and for how much?  The answer is sobering but there is hope on the horizon.  There are 3DTV broadcasters around the world, but they are very few and very wide apart.  Sky3D, 3Net and CCTV3D are the most quoted names as they are the most visible 3-D broadcasters, but there are big caveats with each of these channels.  

The UK’s Sky3D has its preferred suppliers of 3-D content, which fits perfectly within its vertical platform model.  Hardware, software, channel, content and everything else within the Sky infrastructure.  They buy very few external 3-D programs and commission even fewer programs.

The big American name is 3Net, who have a reputation of paying really quite badly or not at all for 3-D content – exceptions aside of course.  However, 3Net have just announced the news they are following Sky3D’s suit and have now started producing and distributing their own in-house 3-D productions.  More vertical integration then and the gates are once again closed to most independent 3-D producers.

Nobody knows what to expect from the third biggest name is 3-D broadcasting: CCTV3D.  As a Chinese channel, its content will need to be predominantly Chinese (produced for the largest part in China, by Chinese) so don’t expect too many foreign purchases.  Besides this, the issue of copyrights and IP still troubles the Chinese market, with official state owned shops selling pirated copies of programs before the legal release is out.  Let’s hope this is more and more of a rare happening because it makes for a very unprofitable situation for everybody – but the Chinese state.

Childrens programming on 3DTV Broadcasters: next to no choice

The biggest issue with all 3-D channels is the lock-down of worldwide rights, both 2-D and 3-D.  3DTV broadcaster (pre-) sales would make sense if one was just talking about the 3-D rights.  But that’s not the way these broadcasters roll and thus the independent 3-D producer is faced with a situation where either 2-D rights are sold to many international broadcasters and the 3-D rights are thrown in for free, or alternatively the 2-D and 3-D rights are sold or given away to one 3-D broadcaster with a very small audience share.  We have to make a fist together as 3-D content producers and not accept this practice.  Only when 3-D rights can be sold separately is there a realistic healthy, long term future possible for TV 3-D broadcasting.

There is alternative hope in the form of online / IP and Smart TV delivery platforms.  Netflix has reserved a 3-D section is does, on occasion, commission 3-D content.  Youtube has 3-D functionality and does also, on rare occasion, commission content.  But are we talking about the same numbers 2-D broadcasters pay for programs?  Or even 3-D overhead cover?  Well, that depends on how fantastic and mind-blowing your content really is and how badly Netflix or Youtube wants to get its hands on digital / IP or global rights.  IP rights can mean, however, that no more sales to television broadcasters are possible because once it’s on the net, it’s of no value to TV any more – unless this is a different version of the program of course.

 Some producers are lucky enough to also find inroads with platforms such as IMAX, Nintendo, Samsung and other alternative 3-D presentation brands and formats.  This can prove nicely profitable but again it’s anyone’s guess whether you’ll get in and if so, how much will be paid for your 3-D IP’s rights – and how non-exclusive those rights sales are.

Allow 3-D Revolution Productions to guide you through the jungle of 3DTV production and distribution.  Give us a ring or drop usa line. Tel. +44 1179 441 449

3-D Post Conversion for television

The fact is that by far not enough new programs are produced in 3-D to meet the demand of even the few 3DTV broadcasters in existence.  3-D production takes more time and costs more money and as such does not fit the current television program delivery expectation.  More for less is the word, not less for more.  Most filler content (with all due respect) on regular television broadcasters consists of library content – reruns – and for 3-D television content this is simply not an option.  The only library content available in 3-D are 3-D movies from the 1953-54 period,  the 1983-84 3-D boom, IMAX specials since 1995 and some 4-D ridefilm content, followed by 3-D film content produced after 2003.  So realistically speaking 3DTV needs to do what HD did: convert.  Problem is, there is no such thing as watchable automatic 2D-3D conversion like there is SD-HD upscaling.  The results are simply never watchable because the human- and even artist eye are needed to guide the conversion to the right end results.  Watchable first, decent second, good third, but with an increased price tag at every step up the quality ladder.  This is no different from other entertainment product or any other product or service generally speaking.  You get what you pay for.  Do not believe hardware salesmen claiming their automatic 2D-3D conversion is good enough for broadcast or ever single use viewing – it isn’t and it will never be.

Yikes! That's gonna hurt!

So considering the requirement of  the human element, are 2D-3D conversion costs up to a level realistic to television?  For prime-time television, specials and higher than run-off-the-mill budgets only just, but for soap operas, cooking programs, travelogues and quiz shows – probably not.  The budget for a television series will need to lie well above 16 million USD for 26x22’ episodes for conversion costs to be lower than the added cost of shooting / rendering in 3-D.  That is a rare number so native 3-D is still the way to go for television unless of course native 3-D production is not possible.  

For back-catalogue conversion or for a full series deal conversion costs can work out – get in touch with 3-D Revolution Productions to find out whether and how conversion can work for your television series or special production.

3-D Conversion tests for various productions - by 3-D Revolution Productions

Child safety

Regular readers of this Blog will know how passionate we are about child viewing safety in relation to 3-D content.  Never more so than with televised 3-D content does this become a key point of discussion.  Since there are no regulations regarding child-safe 3-D parameters, 3-D television program producers are left to their own judgment as to just how safe their 3-D programs will be for young viewing eyes.  We can certainly consult for you on safe and enjoyable 3-D production values, so contact 3-D Revolution Productionsfor more information on 3-D television and film production consultancy for full family enjoyment to niche market extreme 3-D production.

The issue with 3-D parallax (interaxial) values and children's eye distance (interocular)

 Familiar entries in the 3-D kids television market are ‘Dream Defenders’ and ‘Bolts and Blip’, both of which were produced with child enjoyment in mind.  The opposite, however, is true for the more recent arrivals in the 3-D kids TV arena of ‘Cloud Bread’ and ‘JunkVille Story’.  Both series were produced in stereoscopic 3-D CGI in South Korea – and this is no coincidence because the South Korean government put up specific subsidies for 3-D stereoscopic animation production to further the technological lead of the country’s animation producers and to promote co-production with them as well - a situation that was very much the case with Dream Defenders and Bolts and Blip as well.  Because of the subsidies, these producers are able to throw in the 3-D output for free and as another consequence, the 3-D is unmonitored and in fact uncomfortable to view for even adult eyes.  Will the EBU care?  The commercial broadcasters picking up the shows in 3-D?  Perhaps Sky3D will be less than pleased since their 1% - 2% parallax rule is broken by both shows, but beggars can’t be choosers so I doubt they will say no to these shows on this ground.  From a perspective of child safety and enjoyment, the shows should fail QC, but from a commercial perspective that is like throwing out the baby with the bathwater.  Quite literally in this case.

Cloud Bread introduced parallax values uncomfortable and impossible to watch
for its target audience of 3-5 year olds

The public broadcasters in Europe are aware of the potential issues with 3-D for children’s television and will subsequently not touch 3-D overall just to be safe.  By doing this, they are following the blanket cover warning advice by Nintendo 3DS and Panasonic TVs that under 8s should probably not be watching 3-D content or at least take as many breaks from watching as possible.  Without industry standards this approach will remain a stumbling block for 3-D content producers.  But, as said, by working with stereoscopic consultants such as 3-D Revolution’s, quality and safety guarantees can be delivered. It is not a matter of 3-D being good or bad for children's eyes, it's a matter of applying proper child-safe 3-D image values.

Don’t undersell

There are plenty of technical and creative factors that can go wrong with 3-D.  Hiring a stereographer on your production can help enormously towards eliminating these potential issues.  One very true fact remains: 3-D sells itself when done well and pisses people off when it is screwed up.  And screwing up doesn’t just include technical issues – the creative side is equally important.  3-D can do a lot of very interesting things for your image, for your vision, but when appled in the wrong way it will work against you.  An important factor producers and directors forget all too easily as well is that if and when 3-D is underused, it will work against you equally badly.

Many a time have directors told me out of screen 3-D (negative parallax) is ‘Gimmicky’.  Instructed by James Cameron they are certain of the fact that the use of theater space cheapens their artistic vision and hurts the audience’s eyes, besides harking back to days of 3-D old.  What types of artistic product are we talking about here?  Toilet paper commercials, short animated clips about sheep, dogs and cats causing havock and films about pirates swashbuckling with Queen Victoria over possession of a Dodo.  The word ‘gimmicky’ seems somewhat odd in this context.  

Shaun the Sheep 3DS test setup

What matters most is that the result of leaving negative parallax out of the picture is almost always grave disappointment to the audience.  The viewer expects 3-D to come flying out of the screen at many occasions and even considers it a reason for the 3-D upcharge at the boxoffice and the reason for putting on glasses to watch TV in 3-D.  Directors need to start listening to their audiences (and their stereographers) and use an awful lot more out of screen 3-D.  The 3DTV commercials already look ridiculously unrepresentative when they show a whole world coming out of the TV screen, when nothing of the sort happens today due to slavish copying of the idolized 3-D director that is James Cameron.  A true creative shame, a fudging of great potential and a real financial danger to the sustainability of 3-D.   Why produce in 3-D when you refuse to use 50% of the available space?  Some 3-Dimensional soul-searching needs to be done today to keep the dream of 3DTV alive tomorrow.  If we don’t engage with the medium creatively and in a financially sound way, the 3-D setting will disappear into a menu setting nobody is aware of any more.


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