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Disney's ESPN to close 3D cable TV network this year

An ESPN cameraman is seen against an evening sky while filming Fulham and Manchester United warm up before their English Premier League socc
An ESPN cameraman is seen against an evening sky while filming Fulham and Manchester United warm up before their English Premier League socc

By Lisa Richwine and Liana B. Baker

(Reuters) - Walt Disney Co's TV sports network, ESPN, said it will shut its 3D cable channel in the United States, ending a three-year experiment after sports fans failed to embrace the technology in their homes.

ESPN launched the 3D cable channel in 2010 and will close the channel by the end of the year, said ESPN spokeswoman Katina Arnold. It presented 3D broadcasts of college football games and the Masters golf tournament, among other offerings.

Despite declining costs for 3D televisions and widespread use of 3D in movies, consumers have not rushed to bring the technology into their homes.

ESPN 3D was commanding monthly fees on average of $2.79 per subscriber from cable and satellite operators this year, among the highest for a cable channel, according to research firm SNL Kagan. Pay TV providers also pay $5.54 on average for the flagship ESPN network.

The network was carried by major operators such as DirecTV, Time Warner Cable Inc and Comcast Corp in various programming packages.

"They were just too early," SNL Kagan analyst Derek Baine said. "This technology is not ready for prime time."

ESPN will continue to experiment with other technologies including Ultra High Definition, or ultra HD, for its programming on ESPN and its sister channels, Arnold said.

"We are committing our 3D resources to other products and services that will better serve fans and affiliates," she said.

The network could return to 3D programming "if or when 3D does take off," she added.

ESPN, the dominant U.S. sports network and a major driver of Disney's earnings, operates its flagship ESPN channel and others, including ESPN2 and Spanish language ESPN Deportes.

Disney shares were down 0.5 percent at $63.45 on Wednesday afternoon on the New York Stock Exchange.

(Reporting by Lisa Richwine and Liana B. Baker in Washington; editing by Ronald Grover and Matthew Lewis)

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