The finals of the Wimbledon tennis championship will be shot in 3D in a deal with Sony and shown in cinemas around the world. The live 3D production, in partnership with the BBC which is the host broadcaster, will also be offered internationally. The irony is that British viewers will be unlikely to see the coverage in 3D on their television screens, even if they have invested in the necessary technology. The BBC has no current plans for regular 3D programme production or transmission.

The All England Lawn Tennis Club has announced a multi-year agreement with Sony to bring Wimbledon in 3D to suitably equipped cinemas around the world, in conjunction with SuperVision Media.

The finals of the 125th Wimbledon championship take place in early July 2011. The joint production with the BBC will cover the men’s singles semi finals and both ladies and men’s singles finals in 3D. This will be offered to rights holders and interested broadcasters.

“Watching tennis in high definition 3D is a stunning experience, bringing the speed of the action and the emotions of the occasion to life. It is as close to the atmosphere and excitement of Centre Court as actually being there,” commented Fujio Nishida, the president of Sony Europe.

“Wimbledon is renowned for its heritage and sense of tradition. At the same time we are always looking for ways to improve the presentation of the championships by successfully blending that tradition with innovation,” said Ian Ritchie, the chief executive of The All England Lawn Tennis Club. “We are delighted that our 3D partnership with Sony will not only guarantee we are at the cutting edge of live sporting television, but also deliver a compelling new viewing experience for our global audiences, especially amongst our younger supporters.”

Can Communicate, a specialist 3D production company, has been appointed by Sony as the technical partner for the project. It follows their 3D coverage of the French Open at Roland Garros in 2010. Five camera positions will be used for each match, each comprising two Sony HDC-1500 cameras and configured with Sony MPE-200 processors.

Separately, Sony has acquired Hawk-Eye, the company that provides ball tracking technology for tennis and cricket. Financial details were not disclosed.

The BBC is taking a cautious approach to 3D. In a technology strategy “vision statement” the BBC said it will investigate stereoscopic 3D through a series of trials. Stereoscopic television is a “consumer display manufacturer driven technology,” it observes. “Much of the current hype has come from the success of recent movie titles and the imminent release of these on Blu-ray.” The BBC says it will not be investing in 3D production but will review its approach around mid-2012, when it will either develop a full programme strategy unless current standards “fail to deliver”.

Sky has meanwhile promoted live stereoscopic sports and other programming, with a dedicated 3D channel. In January it said it had attracted 70,000 subscribers, representing around half the 3D televisions sold in the United Kingdom in 2010.

The irony is that Wimbledon, an iconic English sporting event for which the BBC has the exclusive domestic rights, is unlikely to be seen in 3D on British television screens. Although Sky has the capability to carry the stereoscopic service, the BBC has the exclusive broadcast rights to the event and seems reluctant to allow any particular platform to benefit from the 3D pictures. It was the same story with the World Cup football, which was covered in 3D for the first time in 2010. So far there is no news on whether they will get to sort this out in time for the London Olympics in 2012.