Marketing of Stereoscopic Cinema

Marketingkonzepte des stereoskopischen Films

Bachelor Thesis, 2012
35 Pages, Grade: 1


Table of Contents

1 Introduction
1.1 Background information
1.2 Problem Statement
1.3 Research question
1.4 Methodology and structure

2 Historical Overview
2.1 TheConceptandOriginsofStereoscopy
2.1.1 The Discovery of the Stereoscopic Effect
2.1.2 Dissemination of Stereoscopy Through 3D Photography
2.2 TheDevelopmentofStereoscopicCinema
2.3 3D Cinema on the Rise
2.3.1 NaturalVision
2.3.2 Bwana Devil Points the Way
2.4 The Golden Age-3D'sFirstEconomicBoom
2.4.1 FourYearsofEconomic Exploitation
2.4.2 TheDeclineofStereoscopy

3 Today’s Trends
3.1 The Current Renaissance
3.2 The Influence ofDigital 3D on the Market Structure
3.2.1 Digital 3D as Leverage to Digitize Distribution
3.2.2 3D Television
3.3 The Commonalities and Differences between The Golden Age and the Current Renaissance
3.3.1 Competition through Substitute Products
3.3.2 Successful Ignition
3.3.3 Distributional Challenges
3.3.4 QualityDifferences
3.3.5 PersistanceofStereoscopy

4 International Marketing Strategy for the Usage of 3D Films
4.1 The Exploitation Windows
4.2 IncorporationofSteroscopyin theMarketingInstruments
4.2.1 The4PsoftheInternationalMovieMarketingMix
4.2.2 StandardizationVersusAdaptation

5 Conclusion



Motion Pictures

Movie Posters

List of figures

Figure 2-1: 3D Movie Releases, 1910-2010 (Mendiburu 2009, p. 9).
Figure 2-2: Proportion of Digital 3D to Digital Screens (Hancock 2010, p. 7).
Figure 2-3: 3DTV Sales and Prognostics (

Figure 3-1: Economic Value Addition Table of the Film Production (Seikmann, p. 55)
Figure 3-2: Digital Cinema Screens by World Region (Hancock 2010, p. 4).
Figure 3-3: Movie Posters for 3D Films from the 1950s (Bwana Devil, USA 1952, House of Wax, USA 1953 and The Mad Magician, USA 1954).
Figure 3-4: Movie Posters for 3D Films Today (Ice Age: Dawn of Dinosaurs, USA 2009, Saw 3D, USA 2010 and Titanic, USA 1997 - converted and redistributed in 3D in 2011).

1 Introduction

1.1 Background information

With the rise of Internet platforms providing both legal and illegal file sharing utilities, media companies - especially the ones focusing theatrical cinema markets - are facing new problems and difficulties to remain merchantable in opposition with their online competition (Goel etc. 2010, p. 10).

With the beginning of the new century, the number of sales, as to say the worldwide number of cinema attendances, experienced an ongoing stagnation or even a decrease. In order to cope with this challenge, international film production companies and cinema chains are challenged to develop new strategies if they mean to endeavor market changes.

One possibility to attract a larger audience to the cinemas could be the usage of stereoscopic 3D technology, due to the lack of an online substitute. This phenomenon is not new. When, in the 1950s, television started to become part of the average households and cinema attendance numbers collapsed, 3D films experienced a heyday.

The task of this research is to compare the former boom with today's trend and to evaluate whether the stereoscopic technology is a proper tool to enhance sales in terms of cinema attendance for international media companies.

1.2 Problem Statement

Recently, international film production and distribution companies are facing a decline in cinema attendance that leads to a downturn of lucrative sales of their products to cinema chains (White Hutchinson 2001). This phenomenon is largely related to free and mostly illegal media downloads on the Internet. Given this cheap substitute product, the media companies are challenged to develop new marketing strategies in order to distinguish the uniqueness of cinema screenings. One largely used method is the re­introduction and commercialization of 3D films, as a product that can hardly be substituted at home. This imposes the question whether stereoscopic cinema is an adequate tool to attract potential costumers. If so, how should the production companies market their 3D products? What should be considered when a marketing strategy is built upon stereoscopic films and how can the technology successfully be integrated in the marketing mix?

1.3 Research question

These queries lead to the central research question of this bachelor thesis:

Is stereoscopic cinema a useful tool to increase profitability and how should it be implemented in international media companies' marketing strategies?

This question led the research in two basic directions: the analysis of historical data in connection with the establishment and treatment of the market for 3D films and the evaluation of possibilities of marketing mix adaptations to aforementioned markets.

1.4 Methodology and structure

Basic source of this research is existing statistical data and common marketing theory. Hereby, historical sales data from the 1950s is evaluated and compared to recent trends. Furthermore, basic and commonly used marketing strategy theory, such as Neil Borden's Marketing Mix and specific movie marketing literature is used as the basis to determine the marketing strategy for international media companies producing and distributing 3D films. The source of statistical data is on the one hand mostly extracted from official box office numbers available online and on the other hand an encompassing survey implemented by the German national research project PRIME. The outcome of this research and its analysis are summarized in 3D-Kino - Studien zur Rezeption und Akzeptanz by Claudia Wegener, Jesko Jockenhövel and Mariann Gibbon.

Bernhard Seikmann’s The Making of Movie Marketing, a diploma thesis from the Vienna University of Economics and Business, therefore serves as comprehensive overall structure upon which the marketing instruments of the film industry are extracted. These marketing instruments are set in the context of stereoscopic movie marketing in order to evaluate its peculiarities.

This bachelor thesis is meant to find out if the usage of 3D film technology is an efficient tool to boost sales in terms of cinema attendance for international media companies and nowadays indispensable for them to stay competitive. It analyzes furthermore how the stereoscopic films are successfully integrated in a multinational's marketing strategy in order to rise the attention of potential customers and increase demand for cinema visits.

Finally, this bachelor thesis is meant to analyze whether the wave of digital stereoscopy is a technological impact with long lasting severity. More specifically, this would mean to raise the question of the sustainability of 3D cinema and whether market players and participants are required to adapt to its requirements.

2 Historical Overview

2.1 The Concept and Origins of Stereoscopy

Stereoscopic (or 3D) cinema names the technique of simultaneously showing two moving images, creating the illusion of depth for the spectator. The basic idea consists of copying the duplicity of the human eye by recording (or digitally creating) an image from to slightly different angles and then showing each picture to each retina. The human brain, used to permanently process the information sent by the two eyes, then complements the two pictures to one single stereographic image.

Part of the secret of stereoscopy lies within the fact that the technology is much older than most of the consumers believe it to be. A vast majority of the contemporary cinema audience perceives 3D films as a new and innovative technology (Wegener 2012, p. 31), but this is only partly true.

2.1.1 The Discovery of the Stereoscopic Effect

The principle of spatial vision created by two different images seen with each eye was found in 1838 by the British physicist Charles Wheatstone (Keip 2012, p. 4). He created a device called the Mirror Reflecting Stereoscope. With this, he could illustrate simple objects in three-dimensions by projecting two slightly different pictures through mirrors, one on each retina. This device was the first one to create a stereoscopic effect for a spectator, years before the invention of common negative photography.

2.1.2 Dissemination of Stereoscopy Through 3D Photography

With the development of photography, stereoscopic photographs became a mass phenomenon (Wegener 2012, p. 21). Hundreds of thousands of pictures of city- and landscapes, exotic and erotic illustrations or even news images were produced for binocular stereoscopes. This was possible due to the development of a single camera with two objectives invented by the Liverpool Photographic Society (Kohler 2004). With this camera, the shot of a binocular picture was as simple as common photography, still requiring stereoscopes for the observation. Nevertheless, stereoscopic photography was an economic success from day one: With the universal exhibition in Paris in 1851, 250.000 stereoscopes were sold within only three months and in 1858, the

London Stereoscopie Company was indexing a list of over 100.000 stereographic pictures (Wegener 2012, p.22). By this time and until the development of motion pictures, stereoscopic photography became the most predominant mass media in Europe. Hence, as distinct from regular monoscopic photography, which started to be a specific form of art, stereoscopy was since then connoted to attraction performances. This would later be the root that paved the way to the usage of 3D films as a tool to draw the audience to movie theaters in times of a cinema recession.

2.2 The Development of Stereoscopic Cinema

Parallel to the discovery of motion pictures and the invention of cinematographic cameras, the early filmmakers also tried to develop technical devices in order to record and present stereoscopic films. The problem they had to deal with was the question of projection, as 3D pictures were always tied to stereoscopes and other peep-boxes. A presentation to a big audience in a theater, which was the great innovational leap that motion pictures just accomplished, was still very difficult. The big challenge was to find a method to separate the two pictures projected on one screen in order to show each to each eye of the spectator. The pioneers resorted to the anaglyphic method, developed by Willhelm Rollmann in 1853 (Kohler 2004). This technique encodes each image with different color filters, mostly red and cyan, that can be decoded by wearing glasses of the same colors. The first film officially presented to an audience in 3D was L’Arivée d’un Train en Gare de La Ciotat Station, commonly known as The Arrival of the Mail Train, by the brothers Auguste and Louis Lumière in 1903 (Hayes 1998, p. 3). This movie later became famous in both, a 3D and a 2D version, mostly because of rumors of the scared audience escaping from the train out of the cinema and is still today considered one of the most important milestones in film history. Later on, there were a few other intents to show stereoscopic movies to the public in the twenties, but its usage was rather scarce, mostly because of the high production costs and difficult screenings. Other reasons why 3D film couldn’t win through from the early years on, were the separation of the stereo-pictures, that was imperfect due to the immature technical standards which resulted in asyncronicities and the competition with other innovations like sound or color film (Wegener 2012, p. 23). With the teens and twenties being a rather revolutionary and experimental period for motion pictures, the Great Depression ended the era of technical evolution and most of the innovations like stereo-directional sound and Widescreen along with 3D disappeared for several decades (Hayes 1998 , p. 10).

2.3 3D Cinema on the Rise

2.3.1 Natural Vision

In 1951, Milton and Julian Gunzberg founded the Natural Vision Company, based on the Natural Vision system. Two cameramen in Los Angeles developed this system and named the dual-camera recording method in reference to the imitation of the human eye (Wegener etc. 2012, p. 27). The newly founded company and its technology was the foundation of what would later become an outstanding boom in production and sales of 3D films. In 1952, Arch Oboler, a radio producer and occasional moviemaker, decided to produce Lions of Gulu which was later called Bwana Devil with Natural Vision.

“Oboler was in production on a very modest African adventure called The Lions of Gulu, a film which at best would have been only a moderate commercial success. After viewing the 3-D footage, he signed on to make the first U.S. stereoscopic since the twenties (Hayes 1998, p. 22).”

2.3.2 Bwana Devil Points the Way

Bwana Devil was premiered in 1952 in two Los Angeles theaters and was unexpectedly successful. The movie was printed ultimately 700 times and earned around $3 million on the U.S. market (Hall etc. 2010, p. 145). This was very impressive, given the fact that Hollywood and the movie theater industry were experiencing a severe depression: The interspersion of average American middle class households with television sets had the decline of cinema as a logical consequence. Cinema attendance that counted 80 million visitors in 1951, only reached 46 million the year after (Distelmeyer etc. 2012, p. 50). Given these numbers, the film production and distribution companies in Hollywood had to think about ideas in order to become distinctive and attract consumers to the cinemas. Among the two main technical solutions were CinemaScope (anamorphic wide screen) and stereoscopy.

Bwana Devil was the first feature-length 3D film and was commonly considered as uninteresting for the main film studios and of very low production standards. On the other hand it received very positive reviews and broke all box office records (Ibid 2012). Hence, 3D technology was its core production value, its Unique Selling Point. The novelty obviously meant profit for the movie theaters and promised a revitalized cinema attendance (Limbacher 1968, p. 185). Due to its popularity, Warner Bros. immediately sealed a contract with Natural Vision and Bwana Devil's camera man Lothrop Warp (Wegener etc. 2012, p. 27). This was the beginning of the 1950’s Hollywood 3D boom. Bwana Devil and the new deal signed by Warner Bros. initiated a remarkable bandwagon effect. Subsequently, most of the major movie companies urged to enter the market with their own 3D movie. Between 1953 and 1954, approximately 65 stereoscopic movies of all different kinds of genres were shot be U.S. film studios. Many great movie stars like John Wayne, Grace Kelly or Rita Hayworth starred in those films and even well established directors were contracted, like Alfred Hitchkock e.g. (Wegener etc., p. 28). The public acceptance was largely similar to contemporary studies: The audience, extensively interested in the stereo-effect, approved to wear the special glasses for the screenings (Distelmeyer etc. 2012, p. 51).

2.4 The Golden Age - 3D’s First Economic Boom

2.4.1 Four Years of Economic Exploitation

This ignited what is nowadays called The Golden Age of 3D (Keip 2012, p. 7). This Era in movie history meant to last roughly 4 years - from 1952/53 until 1957 - and over 70 stereoscopic movies were released (Keip 2012, p. 9). Among the most popular and successful 3D movies were House of Wax (Andre DeToth, USA 1953), Hondo (John Farrow, USA, 1953), Kiss Me Cate (George Sidney, USA 1953), Dial Mfor Murder (Alfred Hitchcock, USA 1954) and The French Line (Lloyd Bacon, USA 1954). For example, House of Wax generated total gross earnings of $ 23,750,000 on the US market with a production budget of only $ 1,000,000 (Box Office Mojo). This equals an extraordinary yield of 2,375%.

2.4.2 The Decline of Stereoscopy

With the upcoming years, 3D movies experienced another downfall, which is mainly believed to be a consequence of the major Hollywood Studios’ decision to use the far cheaper and less complicated Widescreen formats (like Panavision or Cinemascope) as attractive element for the cinema distribution. The array of genres for 3D cinema was to narrow, as the technology was mostly used in a sensationalistic way, of which the audience got tired pretty soon. In the long run, Widescreen formats proved themselves for cinema profiling against television (Distelmeyer etc. 2012, p. 53).

„Hollywood was washing its hands of the stereoscopic process. They had cheaper ways of attracting audiences since dimensional productions, even modest budget ones, could get overly expensive due to added production time and labor, postproduction additives, and dual print inventories (Hayes 1998, p. 37)."

Another reason for the newly stereoscopic downfall, observable in Fig. 2-1, can be found in the various exclusive 3D systems that were developed by most of the production companies as a result of Warner Bros. owning the rights of Natural Vision that had only one 3D camera (Lev 2003, p. 110). Subsequently the lack of standardization meant a distributional problem for all the film studios, as the number of theaters equipped with projectors that supported their particular system was obviously very small.

For the following decades, stereoscopic cinema was urged into the niche of genre specific cinema of attraction. With very few exceptions - like Jaws 3-D (Joe Alves, USA 1983) - the vast majority of stereoscopic productions were targeted as attractions in theme parks as 20-30 minutes long natural documentaries at IMAX theaters. The concept of shooting common feature films in 3D disappeared from Hollywood until the Current Renaissance in the new millennium.

illustration not visible in this excerpt

Figure 2-1: 3D Movie Releases, 1910-2010 (Mendiburu 2009, p. 9).


Excerpt out of 35 pages


Marketing of Stereoscopic Cinema
Marketingkonzepte des stereoskopischen Films
Vienna University of Economics and Business  (International Business)
International Marketing Management
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
992 KB
Stereoskopie, 3D Film, 3-D Film, Filmmarketing, 3D Kino
Quote paper
Philip Jaime Alcazar (Author), 2012, Marketing of Stereoscopic Cinema, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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