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Who pays for 3-D movie glasses?

The popularity of 3-D movies is growing. So is a battle over who should pay for them -- the studios or the theaters?

Kai Ryssdal: Fans of the "Men in Black" franchise are already buying tickets for Friday's premiere of installment number three. Bit of a snag, though.

Theaters that are gonna show it in 3D don't yet have the glasses you're gonna need to see the film. That's because Sony the studio doesn't want to pay for them.

Marketplace's Eve Troeh reports this fight is multi-dimensional.


Eve Troeh: The tidal wave of 3-D really started seven years ago with Disney's "Chicken Little."

"Chicken Little" clip: Not again! The sky is falling!

The sky kinda did fall, says analyst Charlotte Jones at IHS Global Insight, because Disney shipped 3-D glasses along with "Chicken Little."

Charlotte Jones: And that was seen as encouragement for consumers to adopt this format.

Boy have we. Every major studio has several 3-D films this year. They order cases of glasses for each release, and collect them when the movie leaves theaters.

In other countries, moviegoers keep the glasses to reuse. But in the U.S., we expect new ones every time.

Jones: It's very difficult to suddenly dismantle this system, and then pass the buck over to a different party.

The glasses only cost studios about 40 cents a pair. Small change compared to the tens of millions spent on 3-D special effects and 3-D movie projectors.

Analyst Barton Crockett at Lazard Capital Markets says theaters and studios have a "gentlemen's agreement" to split the overall cost of 3-D.

Barton Crockett: And you know when you make a gentlemen's agreement you're opening the door for arguments, disputes and problems.

He says they duke it out movie by movie. With "Men in Black 3," Sony's saying: Hey, why don't you pick up the glasses this time?

"Men in Black 3" clip: Now all you have to do is jump. You want me to jump?

Crockett expects Sony to give in and ship glasses in time for the weekend.

Will he be in the theater?

Crockett: Um, I might. I might. My wife kinda likes Will Smith, so we'll see. If we get a babysitter maybe we'll go see it.

No plans for studios to ship babysitters with their films just yet.

I'm Eve Troeh for Marketplace.

About the author

Eve Troeh is News Director at WWNO-FM in New Orleans, La., helping build the first public radio news department in the station’s 40-year history. She reported for the Marketplace Sustainability Desk from 2010 to 2013.
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Eve,

I enjoyed the piece. But I must take issue with the statement regarding the 3D glasses, that "we [Americans] expect new ones every time." After my very first 3D movie, I wanted to keep the glasses for which I'd just paid $3.00.
However, it was the theater's policy that viewers MUST "re-cycle" the spectacles.
I could have stolen them, but I would still be charged a $3.00 rental fee at the next 3D movie.
So, I don't think it's the American People who demand new glasses for each movie, it's more about one more way to make an extra buck off the American movie goer.

Thanks, Dave

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