Farewell 3net, we hardly knew ye

You know that full-time 3D channel on DIRECTV? Well, you probably weren’t watching it and to be fair neither was anyone else. 3net launched in 2011 to modest fanfare as part of DIRECTV’s 3D stable which at one point included five full-time 3D channels and a decent number of 3D pay-per-view programs. The public collectively gave a big yawn to 3D TVs, and so the 3D programming began to dry up. Now it looks like the last channel standing has gone dark.

3net is no longer on DIRECTV (and they never were anywhere else) so it’s safe to say that the 3D trend is officially over. There was some hope that 3net would retool itself as a full-time 4K channel but that seems like a pretty unlikely possibility now. Today, the only 3D programming on DIRECTV are pay-per-view programs and it’s likely to stay that way.

The 3D trend should be looked at as a case study in how not to introduce new consumer electronics. 3D was brought to the public in 2010, in the depths of the worst recession in 75 years, and at a time when most Americans had just upgraded their TVs to HD. The 3D experience on a living-room-sized screen was not terribly enticing and a large number of people found it headache-inducing. To top things off, makers of 3D TV’s charged hefty premiums for not only the TVs but also the glasses, and 3D content was more expensive as well. All of this led to a collective yawn of disinterest from the public despite major investment from TV studios, manufacturers, and DIRECTV, who pinned future hopes on 3D when it was first shown.

Fast-forward to today and you’ll see that the trend toward 4K seems a bit more rational, but not rational enough. The consumer electronics trade associations continue to push 4K — you can bet it will be everywhere at this year’s CEDIA show — without any real source of programming or any real dissatisfaction from customers about the TVs they currently have. DIRECTV has said that it stands ready to deliver 4K programming but will move a lot more slowly this time; clearly they’ve learned their lesson.

No doubt we’ll see a rash of 4K TVs this fall, as it’s getting to the point where it really isn’t that much more expensive to make a 4K TV. The public may respond with some interest if the price is right, but unlike the 3D rollout, there simply isn’t the content to support the hardware.

But getting back to the demise of 3net… it’s sort of a shame that the whole idea never took off. It’s not their fault that 3D was flawed to begin with and if you look at their programming it’s actually pretty good whether you watch it in 2D or 3D. Hopefully the people involved will find a way to exit gracefully without losing a lot of money, and there is always the possibility that they could come back strong as the first 4K full-time content provider. Having something to watch live in 4K would be a real help in convincing consumers that it’s time to upgrade.