Sony, which provides many theaters with the projectors and hardware needed to display 3D cinema, has informed those theaters that starting this spring, it will no longer provide 3D glasses for free. From now on they’ll have to foot the cost themselves — and by “they” I mean “we,” because obviously the theaters aren’t going to voluntarily pick up this extra expense.
Most theaters use a passive 3D system (often RealD), since expensive active-LCD glasses aren’t really an option to deploy in bulk. The polarized glasses (not pictured, obviously) are cheaper, but still cost ~50 cents per moviegoer. Multiply that by the millions of people who might see any given 3D blockbuster-type movie, and you’re looking at quite a sum. Sony’s been footing that part of the bill, but has decided they’ve had enough of that. Their letter to exhibitors puts May 1st as the last day they’ll be providing glasses.
Theater owners will be angered (no one likes an extra few million in red ink) but I’m guessing Sony wouldn’t do this if it didn’t feel the balance of power was on their side right now. You may or may not like 3D, but it’s a part of the business right now and big 3D movies are likely the highest-margin showings a theater will have all year. They can’t afford to be the one theater in town that doesn’t do 3D, so they’ll pay.
Studios like Disney and Fox have also chipped in for glasses, and never implied that the comping program would last forever. Still, it seems like the life support is being pulled a little early, and, as always, the cost will be passed on to the consumer.