As 3D movie attendance declines and questions are flying about 2011’s summer being more like the beginnings of the death throes for the format than the explosion of 3D, Sony is angering exhibitors by forcing them to shoulder one more budget item.

Sony announced yesterday that it will no longer subsidize 3D glasses for its releases. Currently studios foot the bill for glasses for each 3D release; that bill tends to run from $5m to $10m, depending upon the popularity of the film. Sony has two big 3D films out in 2012, The Amazing Spider-Man and Men in Black III, so will moviegoers end up paying more than the usual surcharge to see those films in 3D?

Update: The National Association of Theater Owners responded today to Sony’s announcement, and you can read that response below.

Some 3D systems, like Dolby, XpanD, and IMAX, rely upon proprietary glasses that are returned to the theater after each showing, cleaned, then reused. But most of the 3D screens in the US use the RealD 3D system. Sony, like other studios, has been paying for the disposable 3D glasses that audiences are given upon entry to the film. Some of those glasses are recycled after each show, but not all. And now Sony doesn’t want to foot the bill for RealD glasses.

Theater owners will have to pay, or find a creative way to get someone else to pay. The most obvious solution is to increase the 3D surcharge, either for films distributed by a studio that doesn’t foot the bill, or across the board. How does another dollar per 3D showing sound? Essentially, anyone going to a 3D film might have to buy their own glasses. (Could we then bring our own glasses, and skip that charge? We don’t know now.)

The possibility that studios would stop paying for glasses has been broached before. When 3D really started to take off, studios agreed to pay for glasses, following the lead of Disney. Given that studios are unwilling to spend a dime they don’t have to spend (except for coughing up $200m for something like Green Lantern, of course) it was safe to assume that one studio would eventually be the first to quit subsidizing glasses, and it just happened to be Sony.

So will you pay extra for glasses? Are you instead happy to see anything that might end the current 3D wave sooner rather than later? [THR]

Update: The National Association of Theater Owners responded,

Sony’s actions raise serious concerns for our members who believe that provision of 3D glasses to patrons is well-established as part of the 3D experience. Since the onset of the digital 3D revolution in 2005 it has been understood that exhibitors would bear the weight of technological and facility modification costs related to 3D, while distribution took on the cost of 3D glasses. Any changes to that understanding must be undertaken through the mutual agreement of both sides of the business.

In other words, “we popped for the projectors, and you were supposed to keep the glasses coming.” Time to compile a chart of theater upgrade costs versus glasses costs, with surcharge income factored in.

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