CBS Sports To Deliver NCAA Men’s Final Four and Final Game in 3D to Theaters

March Madness will give way to 3D Madness on the weekend of April 3 when CBS Sports teams up with the NCAA, LG Electronics, and Cinedigm Digital Cinema Corp. to broadcast the NCAA Men’s Final Four semifinal and national championship games live in 3D. NEP and Vince Pace (of Avatar fame) will provide the technical and production expertise to deliver the games to up to 100 Cinedigm Certified Digital Cinemas.

“This puts us in the 3D game,” says Ken Aagaard, EVP operations and engineering, CBS Sports. “It’s still an experiment for us but it’s the kind of thing we want to try and see how it works.”

Sean McManus, president of CBS Sports and News, says the production is the only 3D event that CBS has definite plans to cover. LG Electronics has stepped up to sponsor the production, an important move that could be a sign of future 3D broadcasts as the consumer electronics industry looks to build on the momentum of 3D theater experiences.

“Our exhibitor partners are ecstatic over this event and they’ve been hungering for new live events in 3D since last year,” says Jonathan Dern, president of Cinedigm’s Entertainment Group, which will distribute the games to theaters. “Hopefully this will lead to many more events and we’re thankful to Ken [Aagaard] and our friends at CBS Sports.”

Aagaard says the first test will be the night before the Final Four, during the college all-star game at Lucas Oil Stadium. Current plans call for two handheld cameras to be used along with cameras positioned above the backboards, at mid court, and at the slash position. But those positions could change as CBS Sports and the production team from NEP and Pace become more familiar with the 3D production process for college hoops.

“We always love to try new technology and we’ll be learning as we go,” says Aagaard. “We were one of the first to do HD in a full production mode for NFL games so we’re used to being at the front of the pack.”

Dern is bullish on the broadcast of live 3D events to theaters, especially given the heightened awareness of 3D via movies like Avatar and Alice in Wonderland. The latter managed to eclipse the opening weekend box office of Avatar, the highest grossing movie of all time, showing the continued momentum 3D is having with consumers. Continuing that momentum is important if 3D will make the leap to living rooms.

“My message to all the sports networks is live 3D in a theater is marvelous,” Says Dern. “It is also the only place right now where people can come and see it and then spread the word that sports in 3D is a great experience.”

Dern says the theaters will be in the top 80 DMAs (approximately 100 theaters) and will decide their own pricing. “It’s unlikely that it will be more theaters because of the heavy install that needs to happen,” he says. “But those 80 DMAs are all on our network.”

Local CBS stations within those markets will also be able to get in on the action as they will have seats available in the theater for clients and also market around the event. “It’s a mini-party opportunity in each theater,” says Aagaard.

LG Electronics, which introduced the first 3D LCD sets in Korea last year, will bring 3D to LED HDTVs and Blu-ray Disc players in the United Sates beginning this May. Fans attending the festivities in Indianapolis will be able to view the games in 3D on LG’s LCD HDTVs at locations throughout Lucas Oil Stadium and at the NCAA’s interactive fan event, Bracket Town refreshed by Coca-Cola Zero.

“The theater experience is changing dramatically,” says Bud Mayo, chairman and CEO of Cinedigm. “The Men’s Final Four is a signature event, with millions of fans clamoring to be among the few who get to see it in person. Cinedigm’s experience, having brought the 2009 BCS Championship and the 2009 NBA All-Star Saturday Night events to theaters in live 3-D, has shown us that fans who attend will feel as though they have courtside seats. We’re proud to work with our technology partner SENSIO and with our growing national network of top-quality theaters to help bring fans one step closer to courtside.”