For the first time in the history of regular television broadcasting, a British man has won the men’s singles in the Wimbledon tennis championships and the BBC cameras were there to capture it in 3D. The 3D coverage was available on all television platforms except Sky, as a result of a dispute over a £20,000 programme guide fee. The BBC is now withdrawing from 3DTV claiming lack of viewer interest.
For the third year in succession the BBC showed the singles finals in 3D, but moved it to one of its red button channels. This was available on Freeview, YouView, Virgin Media and Freesat, but not on Sky.
Sky provides more 3D programming than any other platform and has the only dedicated 3D channel in the country, serving the largest group of 3D viewers.
“Regrettably the BBC has decided not to make its 3D Wimbledon coverage available to licence fee payers who choose to watch the BBC through Sky,” the pay-television provider said in a statement.
Apparently, the BBC refused to pay the fee for listing its channel in the programme guide. The fees are regulated by the communications regulator Ofcom and paid by all broadcasters on the platform. A three-month temporary EPG fee would have cost £20,000. The BBC refused to pay, saying no other platform charged for this.
Instead, the BBC suggested that viewers with a 3D screen should connect it to an aerial and watch the terrestrial transmission by pressing the red button on their remote control.
Ironically, this will be the last major event that the BBC screens in 3D for the foreseeable future, as the broadcaster is suspending its 3D services, due to lack of interest.
The BBC said that half of the 1.5 million households in the United Kingdom with a 3D set watched the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympics in 3D.
However, the number wanting to watch programmes like the Queen’s Christmas Message or the children’s drama Mr Stink were disappointing, perhaps unsurprisingly, drawing less than 5% of potential viewers.
“I have never seen a very big appetite for 3D television in the UK,” Kim Shillinglaw, the head of 3D at the BBC told the Radio Times. She will return to her day job as head of science and natural history at the end of the year, after a 3D Doctor Who special and a nature programme Hidden Kingdom are transmitted.
However, she was impressed by some “amazing 3D work” by the BBC and Sky, praising Sky for its 3D natural history programmes. “I think their programme at Kew was absolutely mind blowing,” she said. Kingdom of Plants was one of a number of programmes fronted by Sir David Attenborough, who was previously known for his work at the BBC.
Sky continues its commitment to 3D, seeing it as one of the ways that it can differentiate its premium platform.
Others are less convinced. Sports network ESPN recently announced that it was to close its 3D channel in the United States at the end of the year as a result of lack of uptake.
While informitv has always been sceptical about the potential for people watching television while wearing dark glasses, by pulling the plug on its own programming, the BBC is effectively handing the future of 3DTV in the United Kingdom to Sky.
Attention is now moving to 4K or UHDTV as the next big thing, although it will face similar challenges of limited programming and an initially small installed base of compatible screens.
Sony had 4K cameras at Wimbledon this year. The BBC and the European Broadcasting Union were involved in the engineering trials to explore the technology and standards.
There were no plans to show the footage, which will now have historic archive status, with the win by Andy Murray, Scotland’s first Wimbledon singles champion since 1896, he becamethe first British man to win the singles title since Fred Perry in 1936, the year the BBC began its first regular television transmissions.