3D represents the biggest economic opportunity to the film industry in three decades, DreamWorks Animation CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg told delegates at the 3D Entertainment Summit in Los Angeles on Monday [December 1].

In a typically passionate sermon Katzenberg, Hollywood's 'high priest' of 3D who announced last year that starting in 2009 all DreamWorks Animation titles would be released in 3D, noted the slow roll-out of digital cinema but said 3D would be the 'game changer.'

Katzenberg said he expected a $5 premium to be levied on ticket prices for 3D releases to recoup incremental production costs, starting with Monsters Vs Aliens on March 27.

He said a $150m production would typically see costs rise by $15m from the expense of making a 3D film and predicted that the current number of 1,525 3D screens in the US would rise to 2,500 by March and climb to 7,500 by the time Shrek 4 opens in summer 2010.

To recoup the $15m incremental cost on a $150m production, Screen Digest's senior analyst of film and cinema Charlotte Jones told attendees said there needed to be a $5 mark-up on tickets where there were 3,500 3D screens in the market and a $2.50 premium where the screen count had reached 5,000.

Jones said that there were 2,029 digital 3D screens installed around the world and global revenue from 3D ticket sales in 2008 amounted to $240m, approximately 70% or $166m of which came from North America.

That figure of $166m accounted for roughly 1.8% of total projected North American box office for 2008 and Jones expected the share to climb to approximately 15% in 2009. Per-screen revenue from 3D screens currently delivered about twice as much as averages from 2D screens in the opening weekend, with IMAX being a notable beneficiary.

By the end of 2012 she expected to see more than 10,000 3D screens worldwide and around 6,500 in North America, a far more conservative projection than that offered by Katzenberg. Throughout the day panellists agreed that, once the credit crunch thawed, 3D roll-out would accelerate.

'By 2010 2D studio productions will be marginalised,' Jones told attendees at the Hyatt Century Plaza in Century City, noting that each of the big six Hollywood studios will release at least one 3D title in 2009 and more than 15 are scheduled to open in total.

Twentieth Century Fox's December 2009 release of James Cameron's sci-fi epic Avatar will be a crucial juncture. 'That will be a big test because by then the US market will have reached relative maturity,' Jones said.

By contrast the roll-out of 3D outside North America has been particularly limited, with China, France and the UK the biggest adopters. Jones said that a rise in the number of international 3D productions would spur growth, as evidenced by the positive response to the animated feature Fly Me To The Moon from Belgium's nWave Pictures.

Later in the day panelists remarked that videogame fans were likely to be the early adopters of 3D TV, which looks likely to roll out within the next few years, and discussed the value of alternative programming like opera and rock concerts.

Many echoed a common theme that live sports presentations would be the 'killer app' and indeed 3D companies Real D and 3ality Digital will stage the world's first live 3D broadcast of an American football game at the Mann Chinese Six theatre in Hollywood on December 4 when the Oakland Raiders take on the San Diego Chargers.