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Super Bowl May Be Game Changer For 3-D Industry

While Americans stock up on beer, Buffalo wings and pizza for their Super Bowl parties, marketers are hoping consumers pick up one more item this year: their 3-D glasses.

"It’s a good way to gauge consumer acceptance of 3-D,” says Brad Adgate, senior vice president of research at Horizon Media, a media services company. “One-hundred million people are going to be watching the Super Bowl. If you’re going to test something new, why not throw out the biggest fish net you can?”

DreamWorks Animation’s“Monsters vs. Aliens” and PepsiCo’s SoBe Lifewater will air back-to-back 3-D commercials during the championship football game. The soft drink and snack company is distributing 125 million 3-D glasses in advance through several retailers across the country including Food Lion, Kroger, A&P and Supervalu stores, making it the largest audience ever watching 3-D all at once.

Inteland General Electric'sNBC Universal unit (which owns CNBC) are also part of the 3-D extravaganza: Intel, which makes the hardware technology used to create “Monster vs. Aliens,” will be featured prominently on the glasses and NBC will air a 3-D episode of “Chuck” the day after the Super Bowl.

NBC, the network airing the game this year, will run ads during the Super Bowl to remind viewers to save their 3-D glasses and watch the TV show “Chuck” the next night.

The Business of the Super Bowl
The Business of the Super Bowl

While all the parties involved are looking to generate extra buzz for their brands from the 3-D ads, experts say a lot is riding on the event and whether consumers want to watch more of their entertainment in 3-D.

Movie studios and the manufacturers of 3-D televisions have been investing in new technology hoping it will go mainstream, especially as movie attendance falls and DVD sales begin to slip.

All the major studios have some 3-D fare coming out. DreamWorks Animation and The Walt Disney Companyhave both said that almost all of their animated films will be released in a 3-D version. Other studios planning to release 3-D movies include Warner Brothers (“Final Destination: Death Trip 3D”), a unit of Time Warner, and 20th Century Fox (“Avatar”), a unit of News Corp.

Key measures of the promotional push, analysts say, is if consumers watch “Chuck” the next day. “The real test is if they keep the glasses or if they throw it out with the pizza box," says Richard Doherty research director of The Envisioneering Group.

Making a 3-D movie isn’t cheap. Analysts estimate it can add about 10 to 15 percent to production costs. But profits can be well worth the cost.

The Walt Disney Company’s “Bolt” was released in November 2008 in both 3-D and regular formats. The film opened in over 3,500 theaters—982 of which were 3-D equipped venues. The movie earned over $112.6 million at the domestic box office with the 3-D version contributing 41 percent of that, according to the company.

Moreover, films that have opened in 3-D-only theaters have proven to be major draws. Disney’s “Hannah Montana: Best of Both Worlds Concert Tour” released in February 2008 earned $65.3 million domestically in just 687 theaters, according to BoxOfficeMojo.com. Another 3-D concert film, “U2 3D,” earned $10 million domestically in just 686 theaters.

On television, 3-D episodes have known to attract a larger audience. In 2005, such an episode of NBC’s “Medium” generated the largest ratings of the season, according to John Miller, chief marketing officer at NBC.

Along with that profit potential, comes a variety of challenges.

Theaters and studios have been arguing on who should pay for the technological upgrade. Fewer theaters than hoped are prepared to show 3-D films.

The 3-D ads are “going to loose its impact,” says Bonnie Carlson, president of the Promotion Marketing Association, a national trade association, if consumers see the ads but can’t find a theatre to watch “Monsters vs. Aliens” in 3-D.

The industry is also trying to shake off the perception that 3-D is just for cheesy theme park rides. “Three-D, I think, still seems old in the eyes of the consumer,” says Peter Madden founder and president of AgileCat, a branding company.

“The technology changed exponentially in just the last five years,” says Sandy Climan, CEO of 3ality Digital, which worked on the Pepsi commercial and U2 movie.

So much that all the major television manufacturers are getting behind it. Samsung, Sony, and Panasonic all showed off their latest 3-D models at this year’s Consumers Electronics Show in Las Vegas, a sign growing consumer interest will increase sales of the sets.

The Super Bowl could be a game-changer.

“It should show that the audience is hungry for 3-D,” says Climan.

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