In a major blow to 3D technology for television, world soccer governing body FIFA has said it is considering dropping plans to broadcast next year's soccer World Cup in 3D.
FIFA's director of television, Niclas Ericson, made the announcement at a briefing in Brazil during the Confederations Cup, an international soccer competition considered a dress rehearsal for Brazil's hosting of the World Cup in 2014.
Ericson said FIFA was looking again at 3D after ESPN announced earlier this week it would shut down its 3D sports channel, citing limited appeal for the format.
"We know that the technology has had a few setbacks in recent days, if you refer to some of the statements by (ESPN)," Ericson said. "It's clear when a big sports broadcaster like ESPN makes an announcement like that it creates a lot of extra tension (for the technology)…We are still reviewing whether we should do 3D for the 2014 FIFA World Cup, the number of matches."
If FIFA abandon 3D, it could prove a fatal blow for the technology, at least for the short term, on TV. The single most-watched sporting event worldwide, the World Cup is a proven driver of TV tech. FIFA's decision to broadcast the 2006 World Cup in high definition is widely credited for boosting sales of HD sets globally.
Anticipating a similar take up in 3D, FIFA shot and broadcast 25 of the 64 matches of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa in the new format. But demand for 3D TV sets hasn't lived up to the hype. The latest figures from the U.S. show only 6 percent of TVs are 3D equipped. Global interest is similarly modest. Major free-to-air broadcasters carrying the last World Cup such as the BBC or Germany's ARD, passed on FIFA's 3D broadcasts, though the likes of France's TF1 and smaller sports networks including Eurosport and Al Jazeera sport did carry some 3D matches.
The BBC is actually coming to the end of a two-year test run of 3D programming that has includes coverage of Wimbledon and the London Olympics as well as entertainment programming. The Beeb's final 3D broadcast under the scheme will be the 50th anniversary episode of sci-fi series Doctor Who in November. The British pubweb has concluded that "up to half" of its audience is put off by having to wear 3D glasses to watch TV.
FIFA has sent questionnaires to rights holders of the 2014 tournament to assess their interest in 3D coverage.
"There is interests from several broadcasters" in retaining 3D feeds of next year's World Cup, Ericson said but added that FIFA was reviewing the extra cost before deciding whether to go ahead. He said FIFA was focusing most of its efforts on its high-definition coverage. "That's most important for us," he said.
"Whether this (limited appeal for 3D) is temporary and this will come back in a few years in a new way we don't know," Ericson said.