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David Poland

By David Poland

3D Rubber To Meet $ Road?

I own 5 different kinds of 3D glasses. But I have never taken glasses to a 3D screening because I have no idea what 3D format it will be in. I’ve seen movies in multiple 3D formats in the same multiplexes, so I can’t even target a specific multiplex with a specific format.

So the idea of being required to bring 3D glasses with me to the movies, even though I don’t have to pay for them, seems absurd on the face of it.

And even though there are programs to have ticket buyers pay for their own glasses in some other countries, I’m pretty sure that the studios know that adding another cost to the 3D experience is likely to send more and more people to 2D screens to see even visual event movies like The Amazing Spider-Man and Men in Black III.

Rory Bruer, head of distribution for Sony, told The Hollywood Reporter, basically, that they expect the exhibitors to start footing the bill for the glasses. And in that regard, I have to say, this is pretty much a slam dunk of an argument for the side of the exhibitors.

(Note that Sony was PISSED when the Home Premiere story was leaked during CinemaCon last April. They want to keep these kinds of negotiations private, as a rule. I don’t think Sony was the source for the Hollywood Reporter break of this story. They have put Bruer on the record, the heat focusing on him… but don’t think it made them happy to do so.)

This is a lot like the “Home Premiere” short-window, premium-priced program that launched and died earlier this year… but unlike that fight, it could be argued as to whether the offering would drive customers to skip the theatrical experience. In this case, there’s no mystery involved.

3D was pushed out by the studios with an eye to raising ticket prices and profits. Exhibitors were willing participants, also benefiting from the 3D bump. But the studios, not the exhibitors, control the flow of 3D content and they overdid it dramatically. As a result, there has been consumer pushback against 3D in all but a specific range of movies. Real questions of whether 3D is now scaring audiences away from some titles are swirling around the industry.

So what do the studios do? Well, starting with Sony, they decide to try to leverage the biggest 3D titles… one which seem likely to be popular in 3D with ticket buyers… to squeeze the exhibitors in a new way. Remember, for all the anti-3D sentiment in the media lately, 6 of the top 7 summer movies in North America were in 3D.

Interestingly, Disney, which will be first out of the summer box with The Avengers, isn’t the front studio for this… much as they sat out the Home Premiere debacle. It may be a corporate position or it may be because they are unclear about whether Avengers will be in 3D, as early reports that the film would be shot in 3D were refuted by Mark “Hulk” Ruffalo at ComicCon.

Regardless, the first certain big summer title in 3D will be Men in Black III (it seems that Universal has decided not to convert Battleship to 3D), so that’s the target. Exhibitors want lots of bodies buying pricey popcorn and soda over Memorial Day weekend.

After that, it’s Par/DWA (Madagascar 3), Disney/Pixar (Brave), WB (Jack The Giant Killer), Fox (Prometheus… and later, Ice Age 4), Sony again (Spidey) and another Disney (Step Up 4). Universal is the only major going without 3D (unless they convert Battleship) next summer. Sony Will Smith & Spider-Man… the only other studio with as big a 1-2 3D punch next summer is Fox, with the Ridley Scott psuedo-Alien prequel thingy and the fourth Ice Age.

The big question is whether Sony will threaten exhibitors with pulling their two big titles from theaters that refuse to either take on the costs of the glasses or to push them on to consumers. A very dangerous game of chicken. And indeed, if the half-dozen exhibitors that Sony and everyone else needs to have to launch a mega-movie hold the line, this will not happen. And if they give in, the smaller distributors will be bulldozered over in this conversation.

Ironically, the AMPTP position on all of the deals they make in their favor with unions has been that those deals cannot be revisited in future negotiations. These companies see no such problem when they are trying to improve their margins.

But the biggest problem for all of these players is little talked about and a standard screw-up. The format battles do not make all this a flexible situation. Exhibitors made 3D choices early in the format’s revival and the best format choices now available are not the most widely used. The “winner” is not the public or the films, but the best salesmen a couple of years ago.

The urge to save money on 3D on the exhibition level could reopen the whole field. And I would be happy to see that. MPAA & NATO need to get serious about having a private conversation about consumer preferences in 3D. Which systems do people prefer? Which ones might actually discourage future 3D ticket buys? Does wash-n-reuse work for both sides? Etc, etc, etc.

This discussion should be the basis for a real examination of improving the 3D experience in any way they can, to their own benefit. Unfortunately, it feels as though we have already seen it deteriorate into one side trying to screw the other side, in reality or just perception, already.

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13 Responses to “3D Rubber To Meet $ Road?”

  1. JS Partisan says:

    Let me get this right: there are theatre chains in this country that do not own their 3D glasses stocks? Seriously? How does that make any sense?

  2. movielocke says:

    I learned my lesson on different 3D types with Captain America. Lesson: Don’t see 3D at the arclight, the glasses tint everything piss yellow, it’s like watching a movie through a pitcher of bud light. Yay Arclight the BEST presentation. Hah!

    Saw Lion King at a mini-mall non stadium seating AMC in marina del rey and their 3D presentation was far better than the Arclight. Sound was shit as they apparently decided not to turn on the surrounds, but oh well, I’m used to watching the film on VHS so, meh.

    My question on all this is that Sony says to the exhibitors that a glasses charge could be a new revenue stream for the exhibitors.


    I dare any journalist to find a single audience member anywhere in the country who does not think that the 3-6 dollar premium charged for a 3D ticket is for glasses rental.

    Audiences already BELIEVE they are paying for the glasses. Every single person in this country thinks they are getting fleeced for 3D GLASSES. they don’t think that the extra fee is because 3d is awesome, they think the extra fee is for the glasses.

    And now Sony wants exhibitors to charge audiences a glasses fee along with the 3D fee they already pay for their 3D ticket?

    Are theatres supposed to become airlines? here’s your ticket, here’s your 3D fee, here’s your glasses rental fee, here’s your seat selection fee, here’s your online convenience fee. etc etc.

    The problem with tacking on yet another fee, and a second egregious fee for 3D is that it is as likely as not to get congress involved, or threatening to get involved, the way they have threatened around flights.

  3. Captain Celluloid says:


    Not “you,” David, “you” general pronoun.

    Nothing else matters to the “health” of 3D as much as the exhibitors
    simply turning the brightness up on their projectors.

    It’s as if the exhibitors think the audience won’t notice a dim, soft
    image . . . well the audience IS watching and the DO notice
    and they HAVE made “dim 3D” a topic of general conversation.

    The studios and ESPECIALLY the directors should be encouraging
    [ FORCING ] the exhibitors to turn up the brightness . . .
    not nickel dime-ing them on crappy 3D glasses.

    So far only James Cameron with AVATAR has had the muscle [ cojones ? ] to force the theatres to play 3D at acceptable brightness levels . . . and look how well that worked out.

    3D on a really bright projector is really impressive . . . .
    altho 2D on the same really bright projector without the 3D
    polarizers etc. is even MORE impressive.

    Neither scenario can make a bad film better . . . . but it can make a
    good film more fun to watch.

    As the wave of major 3D films by major directors approaches
    it would be nice and truly respectful of the audience if someone of stature and clout would say to the exhibitors “you want my 3D film, turn your projector brightness up or you don’t get it.” and then enforce it.

    Kubrick used to do that . . . . and look how well that worked out.


  4. The Big Perm says:

    I hope they do charge individually for glasses. It would be funny, I like seeing major failures.

  5. Maybe you’ve already been over this David, if so can you point me to where I can see how much the top grossing movies really got out of the 3D surcharge? Just to say 6 of the 7 top summer movies were in 3D doesn’t mean that they were in the top 7 *because* they were in 3D. Just looking at Harry Potter 7.2, so far it’s made about $45 million more than 2D 7.1, but how much of that is attributable to the surcharge?

    Am I just too eager to see 3D proven as a passing fad?

  6. David Poland says:

    The specifics on that have not been released, though some publications love to guess and pretend they are real numbers.

    I think it is safe to say that certain kinds of movies benefit more than others. The Marvel movies this summer, for instance, had a lot higher percentage of 3D screenings each day than any of the other 3D product out there.

    My point is that event films can up the ante a bit with 3D. Other films, some that are successful, seem to be losing some audience to the 3D thing… people skipping them, even though there are plenty of 2D showings.

    If half of Trannys3 was 3D tickets and each of those tickets had a 25% surcharge for 3D and the studio split that with the exhibitor, you’re looking at a 6% bump in rentals… but on a billion dollar movie, that’s $60m.

    Now, if you have a movie that might gross $50m, that’s only $3.5m and you may have the downside that some people avoid the movie because they don’t see a value added in 3D.

    Obviously, these are not “real” numbers and I do not purport them to be… just very rough guesstimates.

  7. JS Partisan says:

    Captain, no, you just go to shitty theatres. Seriously.

  8. Edward Havens says:

    Actually, this issue only really matters with the RealD 3D system. The IMAX, Dolby and Xpand 3D systems all use glasses that are purchased by the theatre and collected, washed and reused at the theatre level. RealD glasses can be kept by the user if they so chose, and RealD has already introduced high-end glasses with their own cases. This is a non-issue that’s being blown out of proportion. Start teaching people now to keep the glasses. End of story.

  9. This may be more of a perception issue, Edward. Movielocke is right. I’d gather most audience members think that most or all of the $3-5 surcharge for 3D is for glasses rental. Obviously many airplanes have different in-flight entertainment options now*, in the older days, you basically paid $5 to rent the earphones to allow you to watch the in-flight movie. If you kept your earphones and they fit in the seat slot, you saved yourself $5 each time you flew. I think audiences are going to presume that if they are keeping the glasses than they shouldn’t have to pay for the up-charge. Worst-case scenario, theaters basically pass the expense of the glasses onto the consumers, so the first time you see a 3D movie (or each time you forget your glasses at home) you have to fork over an additional $8 to see a 3D movie. Thus, end-eth the format?

    * For those who care, my last flight to and from Ohio yielded a most unexpected choice for in-flight movies…

  10. Edward Havens says:

    If perception is reality, change the perception. As I said, start training customers now to keep and take care of their RealD glasses. Start selling the lenses at the snack bar that clip on to your regular pair of glasses. Get ahead of the curve and make the transition seamless.

  11. Mr. F. says:

    There’s a fundamental reason why “training” people to keep their glasses and bring them to future 3D screenings to avoid the “glasses charge” won’t work:

    Given that, as Havens says above, there are competing 3D systems (RealD, Dolby, Xpand, Imax) — and that *none of them use the same glasses* — are we now going to have everyone keep four pairs of glasses, one for each system? (And that doesn’t change the fact that Xpand glasses are battery-operated, unlike RealD, and people won’t want to pay for the “privilege” to keep them)

    Also, given that the theaters usually don’t advertise which system they use, only that it’s a 3D screening — what happens when you take your own pair of RealD glasses to the theater, only to discover it’s showing in Dolby? Are we now expecting people to pay attention to what kinds of glasses they’ll need to bring from home when they’re buying their tickets online, or are looking up showtimes?

  12. Joe Leydon says:

    Saw the 30-year-old 3D Western Comin’ At Ya! at Fantastic Fest in Austin a few days ago. And I have to admit: It was a lot more fun, and used the 3D gimmick more cleverly, than many if not most recent 3D releases. Hope the plans for a wide-release reissue come to fruition.

  13. Farticle says:

    RealD was always an exhibitor convenience argument, and never an audience quality argument. If you want better-looking 3D, use two projectors. Instant doubling of light, all else equal, and fewer motion artifacts. RealD = “Real Dark”. Washing polarized glasses isn’t that hard – all IMAX theaters do it. But washing active glasses with electronics, not so much.

    People are already bringing re-used RealD glasses to shows, buying a 2D ticket to save money, then going into the “wrong” theater.

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