Chuck Pagano Executive VP of Technology, ESPN

By | April 1, 2010 | Broadcasting, Via Satellite

ESPN is taking stock in Executive Vice President of Technology Chuck Pagano’s “gut feeling” that live 3-D HD broadcasts will drive market success and keep the sports giant ahead of the curve.

In January, the broadcaster announced that it would launch the ESPN 3D channel, showcasing a minimum of 85 live sporting events during its first year, beginning with the first 2010 FIFA World Cup match June 11.

The 3-D TV market also represents an exciting new area for satellite players. Bandwidth requirements are likely to surge as a result, and a number of operators are preparing to play a part. SES World Skies recently announced that it would be conducting 3-D TV tests to help accelerate the delivery of 3-D TV and work with players like ESPN as well as others to create a solid ecosystem for 3-D TV.

In an interview with Via Satellite, Pagano discussed the company’s launch strategy and why he believes the consumer market will be “captivated” by the new technology.

Via Satellite: How are you planning to launch 3-D TV services?

Pagano: Our plans for 3-D were motivated by wanting to serve our sports fans. They have a very high index of adapting to new technologies faster than normal viewers. We made a decision based on our belief that people will be buying 3-D TV sets and there were around 100 different 3-D TV models shown at CES (Consumer Electronics Show) this year. Our first-year strategy is doing 85 events, rather than a channel, on our own 3-D network. The events will be sent to cable, satellite and telco distributors, with which we are in active discussions with on this project. 

Via Satellite: How important is it for ESPN to be a leader in 3-D TV?

Pagano: I and a number of my colleagues believe this is going to be a very important space for ESPN. We think live events will play a key role for 3-D TV. It is a new way of telling the story and reaching audiences that are intrigued by this new way of watching a story unfold. These TV sets are going to be there. This 3-D push from the consumer electronics world is a function of what manufacturers can produce at higher frame rates. They will be in all TVs in three years, regardless of whether you want it or not. There will be a natural evolution of people playing in the 3-D TV space. There are going to be 3-D personal video cameras, so people will be experimenting here from a personal perspective. 

Via Satellite: How quickly will 3-D TV be adopted by consumers in the United States?

Pagano: I think there is a unique parallel here. The movie space is already delivering 3-D movies. A lot of studios, such as Disney, are committing to 3-D movies. You can look at the success of the movie “Avatar” as an example. That movie increased the interest of people. We are not pushing 3-D. We are making it available to people who would like to go there. It is no different when the iPhone was launched three years ago or when HD started becoming mainstream. We knew there would be a platform that people would gravitate to. We knew HD would play an important role for our fans and customers desire for media, so we had to have content for it. 

Via Satellite: Do market studies support these projections?

Pagano: We don’t know what the appetite for 3-D will be, but we know that there will be an appetite. My gut feeling is that this will be successful. I don’t have any quantitative studies to back this up, but there are going to be people buying these TV sets, regardless of whether we want it or not. I’ll bet you in three years every new TV set will have 3-D embedded into it. It is no different from HD in that sense. 

Via Satellite: Will 3-D attain widespread adoption faster than HDTV?

Pagano: Last year, I was surprised about how quickly 1080 progressive full HD was announced and pushed. That caught me off guard. I knew that last year they were showing 3-D behind the scenes. It is now one of the variables of the evolution within this business. The technology is changing fast. You have to be ready. This is more an evolution of the disruptive nature of what HD did to the TV space. This is an evolution of where HD is going. You are going to see lots of recorded content in 3-D and live material in 3-D. The common denominator is that everyone appears to be excited by the whole process. It will play an increasing role in the games space. I saw a 3-D baseball game at CES and it just blew me away. I thought it was a real baseball game for a minute. 

Via Satellite: Do you think it is an issue that people will have to wear glasses to watch a 3-D event?

Pagano: I don’t see the glass issue as an issue, especially for live events. That is why we are looking at events rather than a 24-hour channel. I don’t think people are going to want to sit and watch every show in 3-D. We feel the event will drive the desire for people to wear these glasses and experiences these events. They will go back to 2-D television afterwards. The younger people who I talk to grew up in the video gaming world, and they are conditioned to wearing glasses. I think where 3-D really takes off is when they are able to deploy direct-view monitors and screens. Some of the conversations I had at CES seemed to indicate you could see these in five years or so, but they were probably saying that about 3-D TVs last year. Who knows how quick it will be? I saw some behind the scenes prototypes of direct-view sets. They are intriguing and they are getting there. Philips had one a couple of years ago. I think there could be some real good developments in this area. 

Via Satellite: What are the main technical issues when producing and delivering a 3-D network?

Pagano: The challenge of launching this technologically is almost déjà vu to when we launched HD. There is not much production and distribution gear sitting on peoples’ shelf racks. I think this movement is beginning to capture a lot of other segments off guard. Everybody is excited about this. Manufacturers now have to come up with something new. Doing 85 events is a hop, skip and jump compared to the day-to-day coverage. It is just getting the necessary tools so we can make these events work in this time frame. 

Via Satellite: What segments have been caught off guard?

Pagano: There are a lot of them. For example, let’s look at standards converters. Who has got a stereoscopic standards converter sitting in their portal? Nobody. Routing switches are another area where there is a lack of equipment. MPEG are just getting their arms around 3-D. The MPEG industry forum just had their first 3-D meeting. Is that is all good stuff. We are reacting to a platform that has just come on to the market place. We have to do it. We did it with HD, and now we are doing it with 3-D. We selected 720 as our standard for HD because we are very passionate about progressive scan television for sports. There was no equipment for 720 in the beginning to be honest, but it became available once we started working with our partners across the industry.

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