Disney digs ESPN sports with AccessIT

By Patrick von Sychowski | February 14, 2008 6:12 am PST

Trust Disney to have foresight and show initiative when it comes to alternative content in digital cinemas. While the NFL is sending cease and desist letters to Wisconsin cinemas showing Packer games, Disney has teamed up with AccessIT through its ESPN division to screen live HD college football games in Texas cinemas. From the press release:

This is the first time Disney, ESPN and AccessIT have joined forces to provide a live sporting event to paying audiences following tests last year. It is also the first event at which AccessIT’s CineLive(TM) technology, providing live 2-D and 3-D streaming of alternative content to theatres, will be employed for a major sports spectacle since the product was announced last fall.

“One of the many reasons we’ve supported AccessIT’s leadership in transitioning the industry to digital cinema is to be able to provide events such as this one to eager audiences,” said Chuck Viane, President, Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures Distribution. “Fans get to enjoy the action of often sold-out games and the camaraderie of others without having to travel great distances, and each one gets the best seat in the house.”

Given Disney’s long history of digital 3D involvement – or Disney Digital 3D(TM), to give it its proper name – it should be no surprise if we are less than a year away from the first Disney/ESPN Digital 3D sporting event.

It reminds me of a digital cinema conference at least five years ago (a different eon in digital cinema terms) when I sat next to Bob Lambert, Disney’s Corporate Senior Vice President, Worldwide Media Technology and Development , listening to a panel discussion about alternative content. At one point he turned to me and said, “we’ve brought the cinema into the living room, it’s only natural that we take the living room back into the cinema now.” Surprised that a studio guy would be so cool about alternative content, I asked him if I could quote him on that. He thought about it for half a second, and said, “sure, why not.”

Now it helps that Disney happens to own ESPN, but mainly this has come about because there are a lot of very smart people working at Disney when it comes to digital. And Bob is a real mensch, as well as being one of the people who got digital cinema started way back in 1999, though like his then colleague Phil Barlow, is too modest to accept the full amount of credit that he deserves.

So a small amount of credit to Bob as well for the latest development.

Patrick von Sychowski
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