BBC pulls plug on 3D experiment after poor viewer response

For tennis fans in the UK, this may be their last chance to ''press the red button'' on their TV receivers to get BBC coverage of the Wimbledon Championships in 3D, a service that match commentators sometimes tout.

The BBC has been running a trial in which it films and broadcasts certain sports events and dramatic productions in 3D. But owing to ''disappointing'' consumer response, the corporation will stop making programmes in the new format at the end of this year at least until 2016.

Perhaps there is a lesson here for consumer durables makers hoping to sell their latest high-end products in India – or perhaps not, as unlike the more discriminating British, the Indian nouveau riche will snap up any 'latest' product.

Despite an estimated 1.5 million households in the UK having 3D-capable screens, the BBC's head of 3D, Kim Shillinglaw, said that using it in the home is a "hassly" experience and that "I have never seen a very big appetite for 3D television in the UK."

But it's not just in the UK that 3D TV is in trouble. In June the giant US sports network ESPN announced it would kill its 3D sports offering, citing "low adoption of 3D to home".

It had been thought that sport and film would be major draws that would persuade people to activate the 3D capability of new TVs – where almost all large-screen versions have the capability.

But Shillinglaw said the process was still too complex because watching in 3D requires special glasses – either "passive" or "active", depending on the screen.

"You have got to find your glasses before switching on the TV," she said. "I think when people watch TV they concentrate in a different way. When people go to the cinema they go and are used to doing one thing – I think that's one of the reasons that take-up of 3D TV has been disappointing."

BSkyB, the satellite TV provider, launched a 3D subscription service in October 2010, and said that it has 500,000 subscribers to packages that include 3D viewing, out of its 10.3 million total TV customers. It said 300,000 people watched some part of the London Olympics in 3D.

In the cinema, 3D films have failed to live up to the early promise of Avatar, released in December 2009 in the US. After a golden period in 2010 – when the format generated a fifth of all US box office revenues – its share has fallen for the past two years, even while the number of 3D-capable cinema screens has more than doubled to 45,000 worldwide.

The BBC has televised a number of programmes in 3D as part of its pilot service over the past two years, including Strictly Come Dancing, the Christmas family drama Mr Stink and the ceremonies for the London 2012 Olympics last year.

But only about half of the homes which could watch London 2012 in 3D did so, and only about 5 per cent of potential viewers watched Mr Stink and the Queen's Speech in 3D.

The BBC's 50th anniversary of Doctor Who will still be broadcast in 3D, as well as the already-commissioned series Hidden Kingdom.