My 3D Roland Garros Experience

I woke up on Monday morning excited at the prospect of going to the Roland Garros tennis tournament in Paris. As well as going to the event for the first time, I’d been promised a peek behind the scenes at Orange’s efforts to broadcast matches in 3D.

For the Roland Garros event Orange has teamed up with national broadcaster France Televisions to broadcast the event to three screens — TV, PC and mobile. The two companies are also enabling Orange France’s broadband and cable subscribers to watch selected games in 3D, provided they own a 3D-compatible TV set. In addition, the 3D feed will be broadcast over satellite channels.

Though few people in France own 3D TV sets, Orange appears committed to driving innovation in its home market. Sometimes we forget how advanced the French telecom industry is compared with other European markets. We often hold up the UK as the benchmark of trends in Europe, but France is not far behind, and in some cases — such as fixed/mobile convergence — leading the way. Our survey of young adults in Europe’s top five markets found that French respondents were among the most avid users of the mobile Internet. Orange France has more than 1 million mobile TV users on its 3G network.

Going back to the day itself, for me the most amazing experience was being able to watch selected games in 3D. I’ve seen many demos of 3D technology before, but I was blown away to see a live broadcast. And the day got better as I went behind the scenes into the TV production area and saw the distribution of all the TV feeds (including the 3D channel) from the event. I found it fascinating to see that Orange has its own production team on site to support delivery on multiple platforms. My tour also included a visit to Orange’s on-site studio, which provides programming for the company’s dedicated sports TV channel.

Orange France seems to be one of the first networks to provide a 3D channel to residential viewers. In the UK, Sky’s 3D broadcasts of some Premier League matches have only been available on a channel restricted to pubs and clubs. Sky’s 3D service for home subscribers is limited to previews of future programmes. In my view, Sky’s taking a sensible approach, as the opportunity for 3D TV’s still unclear. Compatible TVs are very costly and I think it’ll be a few years before they become a mass-market product.

In the meantime, efforts by Sky, Orange and others will undoubtedly raise awareness. In the short term, demand will be fuelled by films such as Avatar, which put 3D firmly back in the picture, and the integration of 3D technology into devices such as Sony’s PS3 and Blu-ray Disc players. However, I’ve heard many broadcasters and media companies expressing concern about the higher costs associated with producing and delivering 3D broadcasts, with little or no increase in revenue.

For Orange, 3D broadcasts represent a huge investment and one that may yield dividends in the long term. But for now, it’s an amazing demonstration of what can be achieved with the technology.

Oh yes, I managed to see some tennis too. I’d like to thank Orange for the kind invitation to attend one of the sport’s greatest events. I’d like to think that one day we’ll see an Italian tennis player at the top. Perhaps I’ll keep dreaming and should just stick to football — “forza Italia” in the FIFA World Cup in South Africa. Incidentally, that event will see selected games being broadcast in 3D too.