Trouble in the 3D World? Sony to Stop Paying for Free RealD 3D Glasses
While there are many issues with 3D nowadays, I believe one of its downfalls will be the glasses. While everyone has been hoping that technology will advance to the point where we won't even need glasses at all, in the meantime, 3D providers have tried everything from $100 designer glasses to throwaway freebies to special collector's editions. However, in the US at least, no one has to actually pay for glasses to see a 3D movie. While there's a premium price for 3D, which usually covers the cost, that might be about to change as Sony is putting their foot down and saying they'll no longer pay for RealD glasses (the "throwaway" kind).
Here's how it all started to begin with. Years ago, when the latest 3D craze was taking off, the question arose over who would pay the cost of 3D glasses (since they aren't free to make). At the time, Disney stepped up and told theaters they would cover the cost, mostly in hopes of encouraging more theaters to convert to 3D. It seemed to work and most studios followed their lead, but executives are claiming "it was never their intention to make it an indefinite policy." In terms of 3D glasses, each 3D provider (Dolby, RealD, XpanD, IMAX) has a system that requires using their own proprietary 3D glasses. Some of them (Dolby, XpanD, IMAX) use glasses the theater owns and must be returned on the way out, but RealD (who has the market share in the US) uses disposable glasses that can be thrown away, but are given out for free at every movie.
The Hollywood Reporter is reporting that Sony/Columbia Pictures sent a letter to exhibitors (aka movie theaters) today stating, firmly, that they will no longer pay for 3D glasses, beginning in May 2012. "This is an issue that has to be resolved between us and our exhibition partners. We are trying to give them a very lengthy lead time in regards to the change in policy," Sony president of distribution Rory Bruer said. The exhibitors haven't reacted yet, but you can be sure there'll be a very negative and heated response, and they'll likely push back. Obviously, though, with the content Sony has coming up next summer (mainly Men in Black III, The Amazing Spider-Man) theaters will want to show the films and they'll have no choice.
So why all the rabble to begin with? Well, the cost of 3D glasses can be upwards of $5 to $10 million for a single movie, so says THR. But they also go on to say that total costs can also be closer to $1.5 to $2 million, depending on the size of the film, how many theaters are showing it, expected attendance numbers and so on. Additionally, I have to imagine that RealD's cheap plastic disposable 3D glasses are cheaper than the expensive keepers from other 3D providers. But studios don't want to incur this cost anymore and instead are suggesting, potentially forcing, theaters to worry about glasses (and their cost) entirely on their own.
Here's the biggest sticking point. In THR's, article, they toss in this sentence, which should upset just about every moviegoer: "Sony, along with other studios, is in favor of moving toward an ownership model, requiring moviegoers to buy their 3D glasses at the theater (the studios argue that it could be a new revenue stream for exhibitors)." So not only will it already be more expensive to see 3D to begin with, but oh yea, you'll have to buy your own pair of 3D glasses when you see a 3D movie… or you won't be able to see it in 3D. Is anyone in Hollywood worried that this will anger consumers/moviegoers more than anyone else?
That's all the news their is now on this, simply that Sony is stepping up and being the first to firmly say starting next summer they're no longer paying. I expect to hear a response from the theaters, but my bigger concern is what will happen, and if consumers will be the ones forced to pay for glasses starting next year. If that turns out to be the case, there's likely going to be a bigger backlash from moviegoers than exhibitors. We'll definitely keep you updated on this 3D situation. Will you pay for glasses to see movies in 3D?