Iger: Hollywood Must Be Careful Not to Kill 3-D

Over the past year, 3-D has been good to Hollywood, but that doesn’t mean the film industry should go overboard on future 3-D releases, according to Disney President and CEO Bob Iger. Speaking on the company’s first-quarter earnings call, Iger warned that the industry should be careful about how 3-D is applied to feature films so as not to “kill the goose that laid the golden egg.”

Driven by the success of James Cameron’s Avatar and other 3-D films, Hollywood has been riding high over the last year. Box office receipts rose 10 percent in 2009, with 3-D films making up about 11 percent of that total. By comparison, 3-D movies contributed only 2 percent of the total box office sales in 2008. Part of that increase comes from ticket prices for 3-D and IMAX films, which are sold at a premium over more traditional 2-D films.

While Avatar has led demand for 3-D fare, Disney has profited from the phenomenon as well; its Alice in Wonderland has brought in more than $330 million in U.S. box office sales and close to $1 billion worldwide, according to Box Office Mojo. And the studio has a full slate of other 3-D films coming up, including Toy Story 3, Tron and Cars 2.

“Our overall feeling about 3-D is that it’s obviously a valuable technology both to the movie industry and for the viewer. It’s one that we’ve taken advantage of for a long time, and one that we really believe in,” Iger told analysts on the call.

Even so, Iger said that Disney and others need to be careful about how the technology is applied, and not to overuse it or use it poorly, while trying to benefit from recent consumer demand.

“[W]e don’t believe every film should be in 3-D,” Iger said. “And when applied, we think 3-D should be applied well and not done in a last-minute sort of paste-it-on kind of approach. Because we think that if, one, we make films in 3-D that don’t really benefit from them being in 3-D, that’s not necessarily good. And if 3-D is used badly either by us or the industry, that’s not good.”

While interest in 3-D is strong, Iger warned that if Hollywood overdoes it, the industry could face consumer backlash, particularly because 3-D ticket prices are sold at a premium. “We obviously have something good going here particularly when you look at the premium that the industry is getting from ticket price perspective, and if we go to the well too often or in the wrong ways, we’re going to kill the goose that laid the golden egg,” he said.

Related content on GigaOM Pro: Are We Putting the 3-D Cart Before the Horse? (subscription required)